Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty series has traveled across the theater of war from the Eastern Front in Russia as a Soviet conscript to the Western Front as a British officer or American soldier as they fought alongside their fellows in many of the war’s bloodiest confrontations. Now a franchise loaded with WW2 firepower, Activision has also taken it into the world of consoles. For the third major chapter, Activision has tapped developer Treyarch to bring their talents to bear on what has become one of their flagship titles for the next generation. With the lessons learned from having also developed Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, Call of Duty 3 has taken that experience to hurtle the player into the final, desperate struggle for France. Although it might not be Infinity Ward behind this one, Treyarch proves that they can also deliver the kind of war that the series’ fans expect to take part in.
Call of Duty 3 attempted to encircle the German army on the 360 and other consoles. Unfortunately at the time of this review, it is not available for PCs.
The Drive to Paris
The newest major chapter of the Call of Duty franchise will enlist the player in a series of battles that make up what has been called the “Normandy Breakout” which would eventually lead to the liberation of France from the grip of the Third Reich during the summer of 1944 following D-Day. While the battles of the Normandy Breakout are not as well known as Stalingrad, the Bulge, or Market Garden, they were just as important in pushing back the Wehrmacht in securing the Allied foothold in Europe.
The campaign will see the player take the role of an American soldier fighting through the villages and rubble filled town ruins of France, an English SAS trooper working behind enemy lines with the French Resistance to disrupt enemy supplies and intelligence, a Polish tanker and his squad of armor as they take on panzers, and will even rub elbows with a few Canadians as they fight their way through the Wehrmacht’s best. It’s a grand, if not historically accurate, take on the battles that would form the Falaise Pocket cutting thousands of the Wehrmacht’s soldiers off from any hope of escape as the Allies attempt to drive the Third Reich back to Germany.
Despite what has been said about the liberation of Paris on the case, though, the player won’t see the Champs Elysees aside from watching it through cut scenes. This is one struggle that won’t see the player take part in alongside the Resistance in the city and the French 2nd Armored Division which were engaged in the actual fighting to free the capital of their homeland. It’s an unusual omission in view of how the campaign ends, but players will have to content themselves in working with the Resistance in several of the previous missions instead.
Locked and Loaded
Treyarch’s take on the Call of Duty franchise has added a few new tricks to the FPS formula to make things interesting. One of these is hand to hand fighting that the player will be challenged with as they juggle the left and right triggers and hit the appropriate colored button to fend off a German leaning a knife at their throat. It adds an interesting twist to the regular move and shoot gameplay, but it can feel like a gimmick added in just to give the player’s fingers something else to do. In a way, it can feel more like an evolved version of Dragon’s Lair since the player just has to follow the button prompts on the screen in order to survive as opposed to actively using the controller to dish out punches or kicks of their own.
Setting charges has also gotten a change as the player will now be using their controller to prepare and prime it. This is also a nice twist to bring the player further into the experience, but it also can feel like a chore later on in the game after doing so many of these. Regenerating health also makes a comeback, keeping players in the fight without having to scavenge the dead for bandages, and there are plenty of weapons to pick up in the field although you can only carry two at one time limiting your choices to what you think is best for what is ahead.
The player will also get a chance to drive both tanks and jeeps in the game, ride shotgun as they man a machine gun, or sneak up behind enemy soldiers to deliver a blow that will literally send them flying unconscious into the night. There’s a lot to do in COD3 and the single player campaign delivers plenty of firefights both outdoors and in to keep the player shooting across France. There will also be moments when the player will be asked to call down artillery right on top of a panzer column as bullets tear through the air around them, or man machine gun emplacements and PAK guns to lay the fire down on attacking German columns while under heavy fire.
Many of the areas that the player will be fighting through offer several different ways to achieve your objectives. Some of these will be given to you by whoever your current group leader is, while others can be found on your own. The maps certainly feel larger than they were in Call of Duty 2 with plenty to explore. But the maps also have invisible borders that occasionally block the way through the underbrush if the player tries to get around a held position or keep that vehicle from going through certain barriers, forcing the player back onto the path of most resistance in a few cases. While running into these unseen fences doesn’t happen often, it’s hard not to feel driven ahead in one direction by them.
The 360 shows off what it can do with exceptional graphics that decorate every battle with detail ranging from wet uniforms soaked from the relentless rain, water flowing down streams, explosions that tear apart tanks, walls that can occasionally blow apart as bullets tear into them, the pieces of equipment loaded onto every soldier, and shiny helmets that are shot off from the top of Wehrmacht soldiers on the field of battle. COD3 looks fantastic both off and online. The only complaint is that many of there isn’t a lot of variety to the faces that you’ll see in battle from both sides, some of the exploding smoke effects can appear to look flat, and a few of the indoor textures can appear to have some odd lighting. As for the cinematic cuts, Treyarch has opted to record its own scenes within the game as opposed to using historical footage to tell the story of the Normandy Breakout, probably in order to try and focus on the soldiers the player will be fighting with. The presentation style works, although getting to know who you are fighting with is not as successful.
In a surprising, and somewhat controversial, decision, Treyarch have opted to include the swastika with some of the flags seen while playing. While this added a sense of realism and accuracy to the game, it’s mixed in with compromises such as the Nazi flag hanging from the Arc de Triumphe in Paris emblazoned with the Iron Cross which can get confusing. It also shows up during multiplayer games like Capture the Flag or War. I can understand why publishers and developers wrestle with the decision for including this particular symbol in a game, especially one that will see an international release, but to see Treyarch’s decision not to shy completely away by heeding PC considerations was interesting given how several WW2 titles have opted to avoid the debate entirely by simply not including it.
Physics have also been added to the game to add to some of the effects as soldiers go flying through the air from explosions, or go sprawling after getting a taste of your rifle butt. A lot of the animation work looks good such as during the grappling fights, although the engine can sometimes do some odd things as soldiers occasionally clip through the ground or other objects when they die, or end up perpendicular to the ground in rare cases.
Many of the soldiers chat away in their own language or yell at the Germans that they are busy taking aim at. The Germans are also a chatty bunch, screaming at each other with enough frequency to make many of their lines sound recycled or appear as if the same soldier had managed to find himself posted at every position on the front lines with many of their samples sounding as if they were lifted right from COD2. The cut scenes that help to tell the individual stories are done well, although the player probably won’t get too attached to the characters since little time is spent with each unit. This also hurts the story presented for each of the points of view as it is spread thin, especially when there’s a dramatic scene for any of the main characters.
The dramatic punch that Infinity Ward had given COD2 isn’t as pronounced here as it could have been. Treyarch manages to throw the player in several desperate fights early on in the campaign, but when the cavalry comes to help save the day, the effect doesn’t feel as awe inspiring as it should have been. One mission had my character and his team defend a house until reinforcements arrived. When they did, I didn’t know about it until the shooting stopped and I looked out the other side of the house to see a burning tank and one of ours making its way around it.
The somewhat thin Band of Brothers relationship in the American group was also too briefly explored to really give impact to those scenes where it could have really added some punch. It is only until the end when the odds are really thrown against the player in the final battles that these dramatic moments really take on new meaning. On the whole, the story is pretty cut and dried and won’t offer much in the way of too many surprises, but it keeps things focused on the action.
Someday, Call of Duty Will Let Me Open My Own Doors
The game still makes use of scripted scenes in order to drive the gameplay, some of which continues to be painfully obvious such as when your teammates wait for you to join them before the huddle breaks up. Or so that the designated Call of Duty Door Kicker allows you into the next area. At this point, I’m pretty convinced that the series has adopted this as a sort of trademark signature. Treyarch does allow the player to kick open one or two doors, but only as part of a scripted event.
The engine that drives the energy behind the action in the game is not without certain issues, not the least of which is the fact that the player can occasionally get ‘stuck’ behind walls or corners where there is a lot of debris lying around. This happened to me several times in the game, putting me in the uncomfortable position of being someone’s target practice. To make things worse, the player might not get stuck because of something that they can’t see, but because of their own team.
The AI controlled team mates that will accompany the player through all three campaigns can occasionally get in the way not only by running into your line of fire by rushing the enemy when you least expect it, but when they cluster in from behind because everyone wants to get through that open doorway. This can easily lead to nasty situations where walking through a door and coming face to face with unexpected resistance can be deadly since you can’t retreat to get back behind cover thanks to your buddies blocking the way. There were occasions where I had wanted to bash a few to get out of the way with my weapon by ‘accident’, only to realize that I’d be immediately penalized because friendly fire isn’t tolerated.
The enemy AI, on the other hand, have the kind of Far Cry eyesight that sees through brush and behind tall grass for their bullets to find you. Forget about cover, unless its behind a wall, crate, or a hill. Hiding behind tall bushes or grass to stay out of sight is about as effective as simply standing out in the open. Smoke helps, though, but its not a guarantee that the enemy won’t fire into that cloud just to be sure thanks to their penetrating vision. The lack of being able to hide in the underbrush can be frustrating as you backpedal to solid cover, especially when you realize that most of the soldiers in the game will appear to be aiming for you as opposed to your team that will tag along.
Players will also notice how some scenes have the equivalent to clown car-like spawns as they spew Wehrmacht soldiers an an endless stream until the player actually crosses a particular line that suddenly stops the flow, usually when they get close enough. While it is probably due to the game trying to set up dramatic scenes in which the player has to get across and survive the onslaught, it can tend to look silly as the Wehrmacht’s best continue to run out the same door of a house and start stacking up. The enemy AI isn’t the smartest in the world, but it’s pretty tenacious and will try and take cover when it can.
As for the general gameplay, it offers much of the same FPS action that its predecessors have done which many players won’t mind, but when you see your own soldiers take cover behind walls and other barricades knowing that all you can do is crouch, you may start to wonder why you can’t do the same thing.
COD3‘s multiplayer is filled with plenty of changes that should have been a part of the series since United Offensive on the PC and is probably the best out of all of them…even if it is only for the console. It has support for over twenty four players across several different maps and game modes, including one that may remind players of Battlefield called “War” which takes two teams of players in a struggle to claim flags across a map in a vicious tug of war with ‘nades and bullets forming the rope. Headquarters is also back, pitting two teams against each other to find and protect a radio HQ. Familiar staples such as team and single player deathmatches and capture the flag are also available.
Players focus on picking a role from the different classes available, such as anti-armor when a rocket is needed to stop that tank coming up the hill, or as a medic that can revive fallen comrades on the field. You won’t be able to change the gear that your kit starts out with unless you can survive long enough to grab a weapon from the dead in the field, so choosing who you want to be will depend on how you want to play the game. Different kits have different abilities, such as Scouts being able to use binoculars to call down artillery once it is ready, or Support gunners that can leave ammo for teammates or themselves while laying down fire with their machine gun.
A good selection of maps mix together woodlands, natural obstacles such as ravines or streams, and structures such as a broken dam, village, or even a fortress built on a hill and surrounded by trenches. Many of the maps offer plenty of opportunities for sniping, close combat, raiding, and are compact enough to keep the action fast and not feel as if you have to trudge halfway across the world just to engage the enemy. Vehicles such as jeeps armed with machine guns, bikes, and tanks are also found on several maps to help spread the carnage, all of which allow for friends with itchy trigger fingers to ride along. Although familiar weapons such as the grease gun or Bren have been taken out, players have also been given a few new tricks to work with such as climbing on top of an enemy tank to drop a ‘nade down the hatch, or cooking the ‘nade for an instant surprise that you can send bouncing around a corner.
Performance was mostly lag free and the lobby system makes it easy to find games, allowing players to refresh the latest listing as they browse. But it’s not without its problems. There are occasional issues in connecting to games that return the message saying that it’s full when it clearly shows up with available slots, has been canceled even though it shows up on the list, or that you could not connect to all players. The connection rating also seems to be arbitrary, as I had more success in getting into games with only one “star” for a connection as opposed to those with a full five, and vice versa.
Despite these issues, there are still plenty of games available at the time of this review, providing many opportunities to try and mix it up with fellow combatants with everything that it has to offer. And if the host happens to disconnect, it doesn’t mean that the game ends as it seamlessly switches to a new one. Team killers occasionally make the rounds as the punishment system seems pretty uneffective at curbing some of their behavior, although players can still opt to send in a negative review for Live! or simply leave the game and find a new one. But on the whole, the online part of COD3 has some of the best, straight up FPS action there is to be found on the 360.
Treyarch’s take on the Call of Duty franchise offers plenty of lead filled firefights and the old formula has been tweaked with a few gimmicks to make it more interactive for the player. But the pugilistic action and charge arming quickly felt like rote exercises in how to perform chores on the battlefield in what can sometimes feel like an incremental upgrade to the series save for the graphics. The story told by the title is not quite as compelling as previous titles had been, spread thin as it was across so many views, and players may not feel the sense of brotherhood that it is trying to portray because of it.
It tries to keep the action fresh by pushing the intensity level with every mission that it throws at the player and there are a few scenes that will have armchair soldiers on the edge of their seats, but the multiplayer is what makes COD3 stand out by packing 24 players into many of its game modes and maps with plenty of weapons, vehicles, and ways to keep fighting after the main campaign is done. The formula is starting to show its age, but it still has a few bullets left in the clip.
– World 1-1