Saturday, January 07, 2006

"Call of Duty 2 (Xbox 360) Review"

Let me start by saying that 1) I didn’t play Call of Duty 1 or any of the CoD offshoots for the consoles and 2) I hate FPS controls on consoles – two analog sticks are shit compared to a keyboard and mouse. Couple that with the fact that I normally wouldn’t play a PC game ported over to a console, and it’s a miracle that I even played CoD2 for the Xbox 360 let alone bought it.

Here’s the deal though: the game just looked oh-so-nice at the Xbox 360 demo kiosk at Best Buy. Sooo smooth. Mmmmm. I’m a sucker for a high frame rate. Then I visited another Best Buy and they had the demo Xbox 360 setup up on a big HD TV with surround sound. Some kid had set up camp on one of those comfy gaming chairs. It looked like he’d been there all day. He was playing through the CoD2 demo like he’d done it ten or twenty times before. I stood and watched for a bit, and I suddenly found myself actually considering getting the game at launch. I kept trying to reason myself out of it… thinking that it was stupid to buy CoD2 for the Xbox 360 because if I really wanted to play it, I should play it ‘properly’ on my PC. It’d be cheaper too.

But, alas, I gave in and bought CoD2 on launch day. My final reasoning was that I would never actually play a single player campaign on the PC (I’m strictly multiplayer/deathmatch on the PC) and that even though I had a pretty high end PC, that it just wouldn’t look as nice as it did on the Xbox 360. Also, the rest of the launch titles pretty much sucked (more on that another time.) Oh, and Best Buy was handing out $10 off any game coupons too. So that helped.

Graphics – 8.9

The graphics are pretty good. No doubt. They are not so much ‘next generation’ graphics, as much as nice, solid graphics. The polygon counts aren’t unbelievable, but they’re pretty good. The textures are pretty good. The frame rate is pretty good. It’s just pretty good dammit!

While most of the demo (and the rest of the game in fact) runs at a nice 60fps, there are times where tons of explosions and/or smoke screens slow the framerate down to a reasonable, but less than perfect 30fps or so. But about 90% of the time, the frame rate is silky smooth.

The character models look well done. Their animation is on the nicer side of things, but they do get repetitive after a while. Seeing a guy walk up to a doorway, stand up against the wall and peek his head around the corner about 100 times kind of kills it.

Quite honestly, this game looks like a really nice PC game, which on its own isn’t that impressive when you think about how there we’re supposed to be in the next generation of graphics. However, when you think about how the Xbox 360 costs a mere $300-$400 dollars, it’s quite impressive they can muster up $3000 PC graphics in HD.

Gameplay – 9.0

Before I get into the actual gameplay, I have to bitch about the save game bug I came across…

First thing I noticed is that while I had let friends play CoD2, and they had made it all the way to the British missions (the middle part of the game), I couldn’t select the British missions anymore. It was very strange. I continued playing through the Russian Campaign and finished it. Then all of a sudden I was thrust back into the first Russion mission: a training mission. Since the game doesn’t allow you to move on until you finish the missions in order, I was confused as to why I was sent back to the start. Well, apparently the game had ‘forgotten’ that I had done these early missions somehow. I shrugged it off and re-did the first few missions. I didn’t really mind because my friends had been the ones that had played the early missions.

I moved on to British missions, and about halfway through those, I noticed my Russian missions were again grayed out as if they hadn’t been completed. Sure enough, after I finished my current set of British missions, I was thrust back into Russian Training… again. What the fuck? Something was very wrong. After some searching on internet forums, I found out what I didn’t want to find out: the game had a save game bug. Apparently, it was triggered when your profile loaded after the game loaded. It would keep track of where you last were, but not what you had completed, and if you saved in that state, you fucked yourself. Or rather, the game fucked you because it would save it in a state that let you finish off your current mission while claiming you hadn’t finished the missions before it. Which is a load of crap because you can’t even get to the later missions without finishing them in order.

Anyway, I found the work around: basically, never use the “continue to the next mission” option. Always save after every mission and then select you new mission from the Mission Select menu. Most importantly, upon first booting up the game, make sure your shit got loaded. If it didn’t, reload the game by going into the Multiplayer menu and exiting back into the Single player menu. It’s a load of shit that I had to do that, but it worked. I expect that type of shit from PC games that get patched a lot, but not from a console game.

Anyway, on to the actual gameplay… the controls were quite well suited to the Xbox 360 controller. I was pretty worried about that. It’s usually pretty fucked up trying to squeeze tons of PC controls onto a few buttons on a controller, but this worked well. I think it was because you only could carry two weapons, so weapon selection was easy. I always hate cycling through weapons on console controllers. Same with grenades… one shoulder button for smoke grenades and another for frag grenades. Easy. The sensitivity of the sticks seemed spot on as well. I really liked how when you hit the 'aim/zoom' button, you looked down the sights of the gun. Very cool and easy to use. Overall, it was just pretty nice to control. I didn’t have much problems with it.

During the game, you play as different soldiers. You start out as a Russian Soldier fighting the Germans on the Russian front. The levels are all fought on the snow covered grounds in the middle of a Russian winter. Next you move to a British Campaign where you play mostly as a British grunt with a short break as a Tank Commander. These are African missions and are all desert based. Finally, you get to play as an American soldier. These are fought in Western Europe and are the general village in temperate weather missions. All, with the possible exception of the tank missions, are very fun and quite enjoyable. The tank missions seemed a bit tacked on to me. They weren’t very deep. Still, they weren’t bad and they did offer a nice break from the FPS action.

For the remainder of the missions, the FPS missions, you pretty much follow the Star on the radar to your next objective. Most of the objectives are quite clea, and you don’t have to run around trying to figure out what to do. You do some recon, some holding down the fort, some taking back an area, and a lot of killing of dirty Nazi bastards. If you’ve played any FPS game, you’ll probably feel quite a home.

I like the use of smoke grenades as a battlefield tactic. The computer controller Nazis actually have trouble finding you in the smoke. Which brings me to the AI. A lot of people have been touting the AI of the characters in CoD2 as really fucking awesome. I’m here to tell you that they are pretty awesome indeed. They tend to work as a team and are no where near as dumb as say… they bad guys in Perfect Dark Zero where they’re complete morons. It really adds a sense of realism and urgency to the missions to know that the Nazis aren’t dumb drones easily picked off.

Your teammates aren’t nearly as impressive. Not because they’re idiots, but because it seems like only certain team members are allowed to die. One of my favorite characters was the Scottish gunner in the British Campaign. That guy was funny as shit. And he never died. Which is a good thing, but still it was kind of obvious who the main characters of the Campaign were and which grunts were gonna get offed. Kinda like the Star Trek missions where Spock, Kirk, McCoy and Ensign Smith beam down to the planet surface to investigate hostile activity. Guess who’s not beaming back up?

Overall, the gameplay was rock solid with fun, enjoyable missions.

Sound – 9.5

The game itself is, how should I put it, engaging. No. Enthralling. No. It’s immersive. Yeah, it’s immersive. I saw a documentary on the making of CoD2, and the developers pointed out that some old soldier dude told them that once the first shot was fired, they never stopped talking to each other. This really made a huge difference in my opinion. While in most FPSs, you play a pretty much silent one man wrecking crew, in CoD2 you really do feel like you’re part of a team… a squad… or whatever the fuck you call your group of guys in military speak. All I know is that my fellow soldiers always kept in contact with me, and it was relative speech too. They say stuff like “Jerries on your right, behind the boxes!” That’s a nice touch.

I also played this in 5.1 with a nice subwoofer. Honestly, you have to. This game sounds amazing. If you’re in another room, you’d think CoD2 was a movie. The voice acting is superb and the sound effects are massive. The resonating boom of explosions, the firing of guns in the distance, the battle chatter from your teammates and the radio, they are all simply awesome. The only problem I saw was that you played a silent hero, which doesn’t make sense since your not even playing the whole game as a single guy.

Value – 8.0

At $59.99, no game that you just play through once is gonna be a great value. I got mine for $49.99, and that’s not too bad. If you trade games in, its even a better deal. You can finish the single player missions at the default skill level in about 10-15 hours. Perfect length as far as I’m concerned. If you play on Veteran, you’re looking at a lot of restarts that will lengthen the game.

There aren’t that many Xbox 360 achievements since they basically involve finishing the game at the Veteran (i.e. hardest) difficulty setting. I’m still going through the game again to do those.

As far as multiplayer is concerned. I honestly don’t know. I didn’t try it. I was turned off by the backlash of people online that have complained bitterly about lag whilst playing CoD2 over Xbox Live. If you play on LAN, I guess it could be fun, but you’re talking about rounding up 3-4 more people with Xbox 360s and the game. That’s probably not gonna happen.

Overall – 8.9

This game was solid. I highly recommend it to FPS fans, even the ones that hate console FPSs… like me. The story was engaging and the level of immersion was phenomenal. The only ones I wouldn’t recommend this game to are people that suck at FPSs and people that have played the PC version. Everyone else should go out and get this game for their Xbox 360. And apparently, everyone did as CoD2 was the number one selling title for the Xbox 360 in 2005. 


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