Call of Duty 2: Big Red One for Xbox Review

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Call of Duty 2 is one of my favorite World War 2 shooters. It’s good simple fun. It delivers the same kind of action-packed gameplay as its predecessor but expands the formula with more open-ended environments and introduces regenerating health. The month after it came out saw the release of not only the Xbox 360 port but also a spin-off title for the previous generation of consoles. Developed by Treyarch and High Voltage Software and published by Activision, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One was released for GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox in November, 2005. For this review, I played the Xbox version, specifically the Collector’s Edition which comes with some extra content and interviews.

In typical Call of Duty fashion, Big Red One lets the player participate in historical World War II battles. But Big Red One only follows the Americans, specifically the 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed “Big Red One”, and covers their efforts in North Africa and Europe, including the invasion of Sicily, landing on Omaha Beach, and crossing the Siegfried Line. The game conveys the cinematic-style action the series is known for and throws in actual footage from the war at the end of each chapter. Adding an additional layer of cinematic charm to the experience is the voice cast which is comprised of some notable talent including Mark Hamill and several actors from the Band of Brothers miniseries.

If you’ve played any of the prior games, Big Red One will feel very familiar. In fact, it’s more of the same but with a different set of missions, basically. You’ll be doing a lot of running and shooting and very little thinking. The environments are linear and you’re always told where to go, what to do, and how to do it. The run and gun action is frequently broken up by set pieces to keep things interesting. Unlike Call of Duty 2, Big Red One does not feature regenerating health so you do have to be careful and can replenish health by finding health kits in the environments.

I actually enjoyed Big Red One more than the previous console exclusive, Call of Duty: Finest Hour. The checkpoints are more forgiving and the friendly AI seems better. But that’s not to say they’re the brightest bulbs. You’ll sometimes see them miss enemies despite being at close range and they can get in your way from time to time which has always been a problem. Both friendlies and enemies will run around, shoot at and kill each other, and lob grenades. This is another entry that aims to make you feel like a small part of something bigger. You’re just a soldier doing his job and are always accompanied by other soldiers so you’re never alone despite the fact you must complete every objective.

The only real flaw I can see with Big Red One is that it is more of the same. But it is a well directed and action-packed experience that rarely slows down. In terms of gameplay, there’s not much here that we haven’t seen before. The cinematic style action is the same, the mechanics are the same, and nothing is significantly improved or made worse. That said, the gunplay is satisfying and the game gives you plenty of World War II weapons to fire. Encounters are typically filled with the sounds of gunfire, explosions, and shouting. Muzzle flashes are nice and bright and explosions will send bodies flying through the air which is always cool to witness.

If you’re a veteran of the series, I think what’s really going to make or break Big Red One for you is the set pieces and intensity. I can’t say the action is quite as fast-paced and intense as that of Call of Duty 2 but things can get hectic. Much of the game has you running from point A to B and shooting a bunch of enemies in between. You’ll have to destroy things, defend areas, clear out buildings, and assault locations. Taking cover during firefights is crucial for survival and the challenge does ramp up nicely as you progress.

If it wasn’t for the set pieces, there would be little variety to the action. There’s a couple of missions that have you driving tanks and using them to blow away enemy armor and ground forces. You’ll be chased through a town by a German tank, use a Flak88 to destroy enemy bunkers and a fuel depot, mark targets for artillery strikes, and shoot down enemy aircraft. One mission puts you in the shoes of a gunner in a B-24 Liberator and lets you defend it from enemy planes and bomb ships and an oil refinery. I do think this mission in particular goes on for a little too long. Despite forcing you to move to different turrets, it wasn’t long before I got tired of shooting down the same planes over and over again.

As expected, this is a very flashy shooter. Even when you’re doing the typical run and gun stuff, Big Red One does prove to be an atmospheric experience thanks mainly due to the audiovisual presentation conveying war-torn battlefields with action and chaos around every corner with buildings burning and smoke rising in the backgrounds. You’ll run through areas being pounded with explosions and see bullets zip around in multiple directions during firefights. You’ll battle in a mix of tight and more open spaces and navigate through plenty of partially destroyed buildings and areas that have seen better days. The environments are linear and the compass on your HUD will ensure you never get lost. There’s always plenty of enemies to shoot as you progress through the campaign. The linearity helps keep the action contained and consistent from beginning to end.

Visually, Big Red One doesn’t look too bad. The texture work is good, environments are diverse and detailed, and the action is accompanied by good visual effects. The audio work is alright. The music is basically on par with that of the previous games complete with dramatic orchestral scores that help heighten the tension and the sounds on the battlefield do get the job done but I do think some weapons could sound a bit more powerful. On the technical side, the frame rate did dip when the action got really hectic but most of the time, the game ran pretty smooth and I encountered no major bugs or issues.

As far as the console-exclusive titles go, I like Big Red One a lot more than Finest Hour. It’s less frustrating. The gunplay is solid, I like the diverse environments, and even though it doesn’t quite match the intensity of its big brother on PC, it still delivers a fun action-packed single player experience. Other than that, there’s not much I can say about the game that I haven’t said before about the others. I enjoy it for the same reasons. In the end, it’s a simple and entertaining shooter that requires very little thinking.

I would definitely recommend Call of Duty 2: Big Red One to fans of the franchise. As of this review, you can find copies for pretty cheap and if you can acquire the Collector’s Edition, you’ll get some extra content. I think it’s better than Finest Hour but not quite as good as its predecessors on PC. Ultimately, if you’re looking for a good World War II shooter for consoles, Big Red One is certainly one of the better ones so definitely check it out.

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