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I’m sure anyone who plays games has heard of the Call of Duty franchise, the series of first-person shooters set in different conflicts. But before branching out to Modern Warfare, the Cold War, and zombies, it was a series of World War II shooters. Developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision, Call of Duty was released for PC in October, 2003. An expansion was released the following year titled Call of Duty: United Offensive and features a new campaign and multiplayer features. The base game was ported to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as a downloadable title called Call of Duty Classic. For this review, I played the PC version along with the United Offensive expansion.
You could say there’s six campaigns in Call of Duty and its expansion which I think makes the game pretty unique for its time. You’ll get to participate in the European Theater of World War II from different viewpoints. In both the base game and United Offensive, you’ll be put in the shoes of three different protagonists, each one from a different country. In other words there’s three campaigns for each release – an American campaign, British campaign, and Soviet campaign. While the characters are fictional, the campaigns are based on actual historical events so you’ll participate in historical operations and battles like Operation Overlord and the Battle of the Bulge for example. Call of Duty also aims to be a somewhat cinematic experience complete with explosive set pieces, scripted events, and nods to works like the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers and the 2001 film Enemy at the Gates.
Each protagonist can perform the same functions. They can run, jump, crouch, go prone, lean left and right, and perform a melee attack. You can hold two weapons, a sidearm, and grenades and swap them all out with others found on your travels. Some weapons even allow you to switch fire modes. One of Call of Duty’s standout features is being able to aim down sights. There is a crosshair on your HUD but you’ll be more accurate when aiming down your sights and you’re less accurate when moving. Taking damage results in a loss of health which can be replenished from health kits.
You’ll get your hands on the typical World War II weaponry and ammo is never hard to come by. In fact, weapons, ammo, and health kits seem to be everywhere and will be dropped by enemies. Furthermore, I was rarely out of grenades. There are a few missions that have you driving tanks and blowing away ground troops and enemy tanks but most missions have you engaging enemies on-foot. Call of Duty is a game that funnels you in the direction you need to go in an effort to keep things moving and the action contained. While there’s little room for experimentation and exploration, there’s always going to be enemies to shoot and plenty of action.
At its core, Call of Duty is a very simple shooter. At least when talking about single player. You run, shoot, and try not to die. That’s basically it. You’ll have to destroy things, defend areas, secure documents, and cover NPCs, and every mission puts you into hectic firefights. That said, if you like simple action-packed shooters, Call of Duty does deliver. It’s a very high energy and explosive experience. You won’t be sneaking around anywhere, there’s no puzzles to solve, and there’s nothing to discover or collect. Exploration will lead you to resources like weapons, ammo, and health but you never have to look too far and strolling outside of the intended path will often get you killed.
There’s two primary types of encounters in Call of Duty. Push forward and defend. You’re either going to be shooting your way to an objective or defending an area, sometimes in a set amount of time which means you just have to survive until the timer reaches zero. You’ll primarily engage German troops but every so often you’ll be up against tanks and other German armor. You can man mounted machine guns and use them to mow down the Germans but they will use them, too, and you will become a target if standing out in the open. Taking cover is an important part of the gameplay. Just walking into an area without taking the proper precautions will often lead to death or a significant loss of health. It’s wise to approach every area and room with caution and stick with the friendly AI.
There’s very few missions that you have to complete solo. Most of the time you’ll be accompanied by a group of friendly soldiers. Unfortunately, the AI in general is pretty shit. Friendlies and enemies will often run out into the open during a firefight and the friendlies will frequently get in your way which becomes a big problem in any mission with narrow paths. They’ll often block your shots and stand in doorways which becomes very annoying. On the plus side, friendlies will divert fire away from you and they will alert you when grenades are thrown. The German troops all seem to behave the same. They’ll run around, take cover, shoot at you, and throw grenades. Enemy accuracy can range from shit to amazing and it can be very easy to get picked off by machine gunners in the later missions. Grenades are a great way to flush out enemies or clear out a mob. If one lands in their vicinity, they usually run and typically right out into the open.
Call of Duty is a very scripted experience and the standout missions only stand out because you’re not engaging enemies on-foot which makes up ninety five percent of the single player experience. These include the missions where you drive tanks and one mission in United Offensive which has you defending a bomber from German planes. Call of Duty isn’t a tactical or strategic game. It doesn’t really require you to think. In fact, it wants you to follow orders. Failing to do so will simply lead to death. All you need to do is focus on your objective. That said, because of its scripted nature, every mission will always play out the same. Enemies will always spawn in the same spots and the linear environmental design ensures there’s very few ways to approach situations. If you flank the enemy, it’s because the objective called for it. If an NPC says you’re going to sneak around somewhere, it’s going to be a scripted sequence and is guaranteed to end in a firefight. It’s always clear what you need to do and the game is always guiding you. You’re just going along for the ride.
You’re going to battle the Germans in various locations across Europe and I think it would be almost impossible to get lost or stuck. If the compass and objective marker isn’t enough, you can always follow your friendly soldiers. Plus, enemies are an indication you’re going the right way. You’ll blow away tons of German troops in France, Germany, Austria, Stalingrad, Belgium, Holland, Norway, and Sicily among some other locations. You’ll have to destroy V2 rockets and secure the town of Foy in Belgium, board a German battleship in Norway, retake Red Square, assist the Resistance in Holland, and blow up a lighthouse in Sicily. You’ll have to clear buildings and bunkers and fight your way across farmland and through villages and can use buildings, dead animals, and various structures and objects as cover.
Call of Duty was a looker for its time. Visually, I think it blows away most of the World War II shooters that came before it. From the detailed environments to the reload animations, everything looks great. The game nails the war-torn Europe look and feel complete with rubble, partially destroyed buildings, and areas on fire. Many of the visual effects help to enhance the action and gunplay. Death animations are scripted but blood puffs appear when you shoot enemies, headshots can result in helmets flying off, and smoke puffs appear when bullets hit different surfaces. Explosions look cool and when you destroy a tank, Germans will come stumbling out. The audio work is also fantastic. Weapons fire is loud, some shots will echo, planes will roar as they fly overhead, and you’ll often be surrounded by explosions and hear bullets whizzing passed your head. You’ll hear a lot of shouting during battles and even during the moments where you’re not engaging the enemy, you can often hear distant gunfire and explosions. The soundtrack consists of some good orchestral tunes that kick in at certain times to make the action feel more intense or dramatic. Other than some clipping here and there, I did not witness any bugs and the performance was solid throughout.
Personally, I think Call of Duty is one of the best World War II shooters of its time and still holds up. It’s well made with solid gunplay, it’s fast-paced, and action-packed. It’s very flashy, especially for it’s time, which is one of the reasons it’s exciting. But if you look at it through a modern lens, the flash is now struggling to cover the simplicity. Call of Duty is a shooting gallery. You move along linear paths, shooting all of the enemies that pop-up, and the game guides you every step of the way. You can bring up a list of you’re objectives at any time, on your HUD is a compass with an objective marker telling you exactly where to go, and friendly NPCs will explain exactly what you need to do. I still enjoy playing it but I won’t deny that I became numb to the action fairly quickly. Still, I appreciate it’s “easy to pick up and play” nature. It’s great for when you’re in the mood for a ton of action and not a lot of thinking. Call of Duty combined with United Offensive offers a pretty lengthy single player experience. The multiplayer is its own beast and from what I can tell, it’s still active. Call of Duty’s presentation and high-octane gameplay was impressive for its time and became the foundation for what has become one of the most popular video game franchises in history.
I would recommend Call of Duty and its expansion to any fans of the series, genre, and action games. When it comes to World War II shooters, Call of Duty is still one of the best. If you’re looking for a fast-paced and action-packed experience, then definitely check out Call of Duty.