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I think it’s safe to say that anybody who plays video games has heard of Call of Duty or has at least played one game in the franchise. I’ll be honest, I enjoyed the series up to a point. I owned every game in the series up until Black Ops when, after about an hour of playing, I literally said to myself “why do I keep buying these” before turning the game off completely and never looking back. Ourtside of aesthetics and the storylines, I always felt like the gameplay never changed enough to keep me interested. I want to be clear and say I don’t hate the series and I haven’t played any of the recent games. Developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision, the original Call of Duty released for PC in October, 2003. It was released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as Call of Duty Classic in November, 2009, if you obtained the Hardened or Prestige editions of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I believe the Classic edition is available as a separate game on Xbox Live Arcade and PSN. For this review, I played the PC version. We’ll also be covering the expansion pack, Call of Duty: United Offensive, which was developed by Gray Matter Interactive, and released for PC in September, 2004. This review will also cover the Call of Duty: United Fronts mod, which basically combines the main game and expansion into one, adds new missions, new weapons, and is an extremely ambitious work. If you browse through the mod’s Moddb page, you’ll see multiple files and, yes, I downloaded and installed all of them, including the United Fronts Graphics mod which does enhance many visual effects, the most obvious being the lighting.
Like many other World War II shooters, especially around the time this came out, the storyline is based on actual history. However, I think Call of Duty was unique in that you don’t just play through the game as one character, but as multiple. You’ll play through three campaigns – the American, British, and Soviet – each with their own silent protagonist. United Offensive follows this same mold but with different characters. The campaigns consist of multiple missions broken up by briefings whether it be short videos, letters, notes, or even slide shows accompanied by dialogue from your commanding officer. The missions take place on different dates and take place in different locations around Europe. In Call of Duty’s American campaign, you play as Private Martin, a new member of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. His campaign starts with him assisting soldiers in Operation Overlord and as you progress, it’s hard not to notice the Band of Brother’s influence, including in United Offensive. But that’s not really surprising considering many World War II shooters borrowed elements from the miniseries and even the movie Saving Private Ryan. Eventually, Martin participates in the Brecourt Manor Assault, he’ll rescue two British officers, and even participate in the Battle of the Bulge. The British campaign follows Sergeant Jack Evans. He and his unit are dropped near Pegasus Bridge and need to capture and defend it from attacking German forces. Afterwards, Evans is transferred to the Special Air Service, must sabotage Eder Dam, infiltrate a German battleship, and eventually he and his unit discover plans to launch V-2 rockets which they successfully destroy. In the Soviet campaign, you play as Corporal Alexei Ivanovich Voronin, and the campaign starts with a mission set during the Battle of Stalingrad and the next mission has you taking back Red Square. Eventually, Voronin becomes a full Sergeant and he and his unit secure a German tank repair facility. You’ll even get to drive a tank in this campaign and blow away German tanks and infantry.
In the United Offensive American campaign, you play as Corporal Scott Riley and must battle Germans in Bastogne. You’ll also have to secure crossroads, capture the town of Foy, and even capture Noville. This campaign is basically a very condensed video game version of two episodes from Band of Brothers. In the British campaign, you play as Sergeant James Doyle, a Royal Air Force gunner, and begin the campaign by shooting down tons of German planes before your bomber is shot down over the Netherlands. You’ll then join up with the Dutch Resistance and later on you’ll get to destroy German cannons in Sicily. The Soviet campaign follows Private Yuri Petrenko and you’ll defend soviet trenches, destroy German armor, and participate in the assault and defense of the city of Kharkov. The voice work in these games is really nothing special and I wouldn’t say any characters are particularly well developed. The Soviets all speak English for some reason, I guess for video game reasons, but the Germans do speak and shout in German. Now the United Fronts mod includes an insane amount of new missions. I’ll start by pointing out the Normandy Invasion mission, which has you infiltrating Omaha Beach. In fact, I believe this mission has dialogue ripped straight from Medal of Honor: Frontline. You’ll participate in the Battle of Dunkirk, assault fedora lines in North Africa, take over Brolio Castle in Italy, and one standout mission has you battling your way through the city of Novorossiysk. New briefings accompany the new missions which includes new voice work and the amount of new missions is actually quite staggering. Call of Duty may take you four to six hours to complete, maybe more, depending on the difficulty. United Offensive may take you two to four hours. But United Fronts can easily take anywhere from ten to twelve hours, maybe even longer. Not only does it include new missions, but it combines the Call of Duty and United Offensive missions into one experience. The mod re-orders all of the missions so you’ll bounce from character to character often.
Call of Duty and the United Offensive expansion include four difficulty modes – Greenhorn, Regular, Hardened, and Veteran. The United Fronts mod includes an additional difficulty called “Recruit” and it’s the new easiest difficulty. All of the characters play exactly the same. You can run, crouch, go prone, jump, perform a melee attack, lean left and right, man turrets, and aim down the sights of weapons, also known as iron sights. I really don’t know if Call of Duty invented the iron sights mechanic but I’m pretty sure it popularized it and I really feel like I should take a minute to discuss this mechanic. I’ve noticed that some people are dead against iron sights and it, honestly, baffles me. I don’t know if it’s just because they hate the Call of Duty series but I think it’s truly one of the best additions to the first-person shooter genre. I like the mechanic because it makes sense. For example, in reality, if I’m going to fire a weapon, there’s a good chance I’ll bring it to eye level so I can aim. That makes sense. I wouldn’t just fire from the hip all the time. It’s one of those things that I would say is a realistic mechanic but it doesn’t necessarily need to be a game-changer in every game. I see iron sights as more of a basic function of a human character that should be included in most first-person shooters just like walking, crouching, and jumping, among other functions. However, I don’t think it should always affect gameplay which does depend on the game. For example, I think most games could include the mechanic and just make it optional as in your movement and accuracy is the same whether you’re shooting from the hip or aiming down your sights. If the game intends to simulate realistic ballistics, then I can understand iron sights affecting your accuracy. You could argue that crosshairs are good enough so iron sights are not really needed and I’ll counter that with immersion. I feel that aiming down sights does add a bit of immersion. In Call of Duty, you’re more accurate when crouching, prone, and aiming down your sights. You also move a bit slower when aiming down sights so there is kind of a trade-off. Unlike future games, Call of Duty does not include regenerating health. You have a health bar that drains when you take damage and must acquire health kits to restore health. Each character can only carry two weapons, a sidearm, and several grenades. United Offensive introduces the ability to manually deploy heavy weapons like machine guns including the .30 Cal and MG34. This means you need to think about what other primary weapon you want to carry because you can’t fire these machine guns unless they’re deployed. The United Fronts mod does allow you to fire these heavy weapons from the hip and even aim down sights. But you still have the option to deploy them.
The arsenal in Call of Duty is full of authentic World War II weaponry and you will be exposed to different weapons in each campaign. If you’ve played any other World War II shooter, many of the weapons will be familiar. The M1 Garand, Thompson submachine gun, Kar-98 rifle, Mp40, and MP44 are all here, among others. Some weapons include secondary fire modes which can be helpful during combat. The United Offensive expansion includes several new weapons like the light machine guns, a flamethrower, and even a Silenced Sten submachine gun, although there’s really no stealth sequences. All of the weapons feel satisfying to shoot and there’s always plenty of ammo whether it be lying around in the environments or acquired from fallen enemies. Now the United Fronts mod includes redesigned weapons and an entire new set that fit in perfectly with the existing arsenal. There’s Italian weapons like the Carcano M38 and Moschetto Automatico Beretta. There’s even new German weapons including the MP38 and MP41. There’s several more new weapons and it is fun trying them all out. Throughout the game, you’ll also get the chance to man turrets, anti-aircraft guns, and even anti-tank guns. United Fronts includes an optional modification titled “No Tracers”. When I saw this, I immediately installed it. It removes bullet tracers. I’ll be honest, I don’t like bullet tracers. In reality, I know some guns utilize tracer ammunition, but in first-person shooters, most of the time I just don’t like seeing tracers every time a weapon is fired. Most shooters include tracers so I just tolerate it but if I have the option to disable them, I do. If I was to fire a real weapon, I don’t think I’m going to see the bullet soaring through the air and many games include crosshairs to determine accuracy so I really don’t understand the need for tracers. They sometimes make it feel like the bullets are moving way too slow which can pull me out of the immersion. It’s just a small thing that irks me sometimes and I’m not holding it against the game. Mainly because most games include tracers so it’s not exclusive to Call of Duty.
Unlike some other World War II games, Call of Duty is not about a lone hero participating in a special operation or supernatural elements that secretly turned the tide of war. This game is about low level cogs participating in a major conflict. With that said, you’ll always be accompanied by soldiers and the friendly AI is, quite frankly, terrible and annoying. But let’s start with the positives. They’ll shoot at and kill enemies, throw grenades, and they’ll often divert attacks away from you. Now for the negatives. They frequently get in your way as in move directly in front of you while you’re shooting and they’re terrible at staying out of harm’s way. Whenever you you’re in a small room, corridor, and especially a doorway, your allies prove to be a real nuisance. I’ve also seen them just run through rooms, right past enemies. Now the enemies, themselves, don’t act any smarter. They do the basics like running around the battlefield, getting behind cover, shooting at you, throwing grenades, and come charging at you with their weapon to beat you to death if you’re too close. But they also like to run into right your gunfire, they’ll expose themselves even if it’s obviously too dangerous, and they’ll even come pouring out of rooms and buildings with no real caution, making it easy to drop them. Sometimes enemies arrive in vehicles but most of the time they come pouring out on foot from multiple directions. This game is heavily scripted so most battles will always play out the same and some areas will require you to memorize enemy placements, depending on the difficulty. Thankfully, you can quicksave at any time. Enemies will man turrets and these guys usually become priority targets, especially in the United Fronts mod which I think increases the accuracy of these gunners. I could be wrong but it felt like every time I was up against an enemy manning a turret, they had pinpoint accuracy and would repeatedly shoot me no matter if I was standing, crouching, or prone. Even if I was leaning out just a little bit to see where the gunner is, I would often become a bullet magnet. It does become frustrating after a while. I’d like to point out that the mod adds in Italian enemy soldiers to a few missions and while they don’t behave any differently from the Germans gameplay-wise, it’s still a nice touch.
Call of Duty is the definition of linear. Every single mission is linear. The level design funnels you exactly where you need to go and there is no going off the beaten path. It is literally impossible to get lost. The compass at the bottom left of your HUD includes a star which is to identify the location of your next objective. You can also bring up a list of objectives at any time during gameplay. You’re always going from point A to B or defending an area. There is no thinking required in Call of Duty. For it’s time, I would say this was a more common thing, at least compared to shooters like Medal of Honor, but it’s also one of the things that brings down the campaigns in future games in my opinion. I mean even little things like flanking enemies are scripted so you’ll never really have an opportunity to approach battles differently on repeated playthroughs. For example, if a German tank arrives, you may have to flank it, then blow it up with a Panzerschreck, and the star on the compass tells you exactly where to go. Sure, you can try running in a different direction but that probably means you’ll die. You’re going to be blowing up a lot of tanks, destroying German artillery, even stealing documents. There’s a few segments where you need to defend areas and a lot of sequences that require you to push forward. If you don’t push forward the enemies seemingly never stop spawning. Some missions have you riding in vehicles and you’re either a passenger or gunner shooting back at enemies. The only time you get to drive anything is the tank missions. Now United Fronts does follow the scripted mold of the main game which is one of the reasons why many of the new missions fit in so seamlessy. Some of these new missions contain objectives that require you to clear out all of the enemies before the next objective activates and it can become annoying when there’s just one enemy left and you have no idea where he is. It just kind of messes with the pacing. The mod also lets you run past objectives which results in an immediate mission failure and this can happen easily. I also want to point out the Omaha Beach mission which can become very frustrating. Unless I’m doing something wrong, trying to get to the seawall is almost an impossible task thanks to German machine gunners basically aiming only for you. There’s another mission that requires you to defend an engineer as he disables mines and you’re immediately assaulted by numerous enemies that can drop him in seconds. It’s just a very frustrating trial-and-error scenario. All in all, Call of Duty, United Offensive, and United Fronts are straight up action-packed experiences from beginning to end. There’s basically no breathing room. You’re always going to be shooting something or blowing something up. It’s all very scripted and clearly influenced by Hollywood depictions of World War II.
I would say Call of Duty does a good job at capturing the war-torn Europe feel thanks to its impressive visuals, at least for its time. The weapon models are well detailed, I love the smoke and fire effects, the reload animations look pretty good, and the textures look pretty sharp when viewed from a distance. I had to make some changes to the configuration files to get this game running in widescreen with the appropriate field of view. Now there’s no denying the game still looks a bit dated. Character animations are stiff, facial animations are almost non-existent, and death animations are scripted like when you shoot an enemy and he dramatically falls over the nearby railing to his death. The United Fronts mod includes new weapons and texture work which looks phenomenal and the optional graphics mod is just a ReShade injector but definitely gives the game more of a nice visual flare with the changes to the lighting being the most noticeable. Call of Duty includes a lot of little details that emphasize the war-torn Europe feel and make the entire atmosphere of the game more immersive. You’ll see tracers from anti-aircraft guns firing into the sky. Parts of the sky light up from explosions. You may witness your allies dragging or carrying injured soldiers across the battlefield. You’ll traverse through the decimated urban environments complete with destroyed buildings and vehicles, rubble, and even fire. Smoke will rise high into the skies and some areas include dead animals all over the ground. Enemies will come stumbling out of destroyed tanks to their deaths. I only wish there was more gore. The bullet effects in general are pretty good like smoke puffs from bullet impacts on surfaces and blood puffs when bullets hit enemies but I think some more gore effects would have been appreciated. Now the music in the main game and United Offensive is okay. It’s got a cinematic sound to it but the music doesn’t really standout and only kicks in at certain points which isn’t often. Even if it was constantly playing during gameplay, the sound effects could easily drown it out. Most of the guns sound loud and powerful and sniper fire will echo with each shot. You can hear tanks come rolling into the battlefield, planes roar as they soar overhead, and explosions will be booming. Soldiers will be screaming all around you, enemies will scream in pain when shot, even choke or gargle upon getting killed. You can hear distant gunfire in almost every mission, making it feel like a battle is always around the next corner which is usually true. The sound work does an amazing job at making you feel like you’re actually on an active battlefield. My only complaint is that the tank machine gun fire sounds a bit weak. If you download the United Fronts sound mod, all of the sound effects are overhauled and sound incredible. When talking about the technical aspects and performance, the main game, expansion, and mod all ran incredibly smooth and I experienced no frame-rate dips. Although, I did encounter some other issues here and there. There’s noticeable clipping and at one point in the main game I could not complete an objective that required me to clear out all of the enemies. There was probably one stuck somewhere but I just couldn’t find him. During the first mission of the United Offensive expansion, the game crashed on me twice. Now I did experience a couple of issues with the United Fronts mod. For one thing, I noticed that parts of the geometry would often stretch crazy distances and I noticed that this problem is rampant in almost every American mission. It becomes an extreme eye sore during the North Africa missions in particular. And every now and then I would see NPC’s stuck in objects. Other than these things, the mod ran fine.
Call of Duty is a lot of fun. I really enjoy it. In fact, this and the second game are my favorites in the series. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault is still my favorite World War II shooter of all time but I’m not blind to Call of Duty’s more refined gameplay and action. Call of Duty is an exhilarating experience from beginning to end and even more so back when it released. The audiovisual presentation is incredible, the gunplay is satisfying, and it’s still one of the best World War II shooters to date. The United Fronts mod is one of the best mods I’ve ever played. I really appreciate the fact that it combines all of the campaigns to create one complete experience. But it also does so much more. It includes new weapons, new skins, and a crazy amount of new missions. Furthermore, the mod includes a mission select menu which is a very welcome addition. I’ll be honest, I started to get bored after several hours of playing through United Fronts, not because of how the mod is designed but because the heavily scripted Call of Duty gameplay can only hold my interest for so long. The game, as a whole, requires no real thinking and every mission ends up feeling the same. Run here, shoot, do this, run there, shoot, end mission. Rinse and repeat. But the mod remains true to the core gameplay, making everything about it fit in perfectly. So if you’re in love with the Call of Duty gameplay, United Fronts is a must.
Ultimately, I would recommend Call of Duty to any fans of the series, genre, and action games. It’s heavily scripted nature kind of makes it feel like a mindless shooter after a while but it’s still a lot of fun. For it’s time, there really wasn’t anything like it. There were other shooters set during World War II but Call of Duty’s impressive audiovisual presentation and action-packed gameplay made it stand out. I think the iron sights mechanic is not only great for the genre but also makes the gunplay feel immersive. I guess the developers have the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality because Call of Duty would spawn several sequels that really don’t change up the gameplay in any drastically different way like this game kind of did at the time. Multiplayer is a different story, obviously, with Call of Duty 4 setting a whole new multiplayer standard. Regardless, I’ve always felt that the sequels felt just like this game with a whole new coat of paint and obvious visual improvements. Although, I did stop after Black Ops so I can’t speak about any titles that came out after that. But Call of Duty was the first and I would even say it’s a classic. It’s still one of the best World War II shooters to date.