The first time I played Call of Duty 2, Activision and Infinity Ward's WWII shooter for the Xbox 360, I got my ass handed to me. I was playing the game at a demo kiosk in Wal-Mart, marveling at the graphics as me and my squad mates were driven into a small African town that was infested with Nazis. Once we arrived, I jumped out of the truck, stood straight up, looked around and got shot about a dozen times. Once the game reloaded, I resisted the urge to stand up, followed my squad mates around a corner, hunkered down and got blown up by several grenades. This went on for about 20 minutes before I realized that I was being watched by a 10 year old. Not comfortable with him witnessing all that violence I left. He promptly picked up the controller and personally drove the Germans out of Africa with only a broken bottle and a book of matches.
Based on this experience, I assumed that CoD2 wasn't going to be my cup of tea and that the Allies would have to win this one without me. Oddly enough, a few months later, CoD2 became the first 360 game I played and finished once I finally got my hands on the console. All this despite the rather long list of things I hate about today's shooters, which I shall discuss at length. Welcome dear reader, to this week's gaming post.
By all accounts, I should have hated Call of Duty 2, and probably not even purchased it in the first place. Let us, as the kids say, break it down.
Storm Omaha Beach! Again! No, Really, It's Different This Time!
Based on the sheer number of WWII titles out there, you would think that the heavy hitters of the video game industry found a way to go back in time and start the Big One so they would have a wealth of material to mine for our digital entertainment needs. I usually shy away from WWII shooters as I played "Medal of Honor: Allied Assault" on the PC and truthfully, if you've shot one Nazi, you've shot them all. I'm sure for the WWII aficionados, there are subtle differences between Bombed Out French Town #43 and Bombed Out French Town #57 but it's all rubble to me. There are only so many variations on the "Noun of Noun" title theme to keep me interested so I found myself intrigued at my interest in CoD2. What CoD2 does, better than any other game yet, is make you feel as if you are right in the heart of the conflict. The 360 can have a frackin' huge number of things going on at the same time, so the level of immersion makes it feel as if you've never actually played a WWII game before. Plus, the fact that you play as three different soldiers, a Soviet, a Brit and an American, in three different points in the campaign, you see the war at various points, with very different goals and objectives. Staving off waves of Germans as you attempt to defend Stalingrad is very different from moving through the African desert as you take out anti-tank guns. It's all very different and it's all very well done.
Behold My Backpack! It's..big.
As shooters have evolved, designers seem to have equated more realism with more evolved, which has resulted in one of the more annoying aspects of today's shooters, namely the ability to only carry one or two weapons at a time. Shooters are there for us to shoot things, with as many weapons as possible. I understand the need to make things are realistic as possible but let's be honest here. The odds that a theoretical physicist can pick up an assault weapon and start taking out Delta Force commandos and black-ops ninja chicks in Half-Life are small enough to exist in a state unobservable to the naked eye. We do not suspend our disbelief when we play shooters, we fucking expel it. Our disbelief is in juvie for burning down its uncle's barn. Give us our weapons, let us carry as much as we want, and just be judicious with ammo if you don't want us rocket humping everything. Plus, I always thought it was annoying that in Halo you're a massive supersoldier in your two ton armor, but you can't carry more than two pistols? Yeah, OK. That being said, CoD2 only allows you to carry two weapons at a time. I think that the reason it didn't bother me is because you're constantly surrounded by your fellow soldiers in the game, and they're backpacks aren't bristling with a startling array of destructive power. Most shooters have you going solo, and rarely offer 3-way mirrors so that you can check out just where you're keeping that rocket launcher, so you never see how ridiculous it would look to carry a dozen firearms. With your squad mates, CoD2 offers you constant reminders of what you look like, so it'd be worse in this case, if they're all carrying one weapon and you have half of the Allied armaments in your knapsack.
Somebody Saaaaaaaveee Meeeeeeee!!!
Finally, CoD2 uses the checkpoint save system which I abhor. Technology has moved us forward to the point where you can comfortably fit enough storage space on a memory card to allow users to save whenever and wherever they want, the only limiting factor being the number of saves. To not allow this always smacks of laziness to me. Oh sure, you can say that you don't want the users constantly stopping and saving because it will ruin the flow of the game. By the same logic, we shouldn't have the ability to pause DVD's because we don't want the viewer ruining the flow of the movie by constantly pausing and going to the bathroom. Bottom line is that if I've paid 50 bucks, or in the case of CoD2, 60 bucks, for a game, the flow of the game is entrely up to me. Besides, I don't always have a full hour to devote to a game, so if the devs make the checkpoints too far apart, you're forcing me to play something other than your game, lest I make progress and then lose it. That hardly seems like a good design decision. CoD2 manages to place checkpoints early and often enough that on the "normal" level of difficulty, you rarely have to replay portions over and over. The highest compliment I can pay to the save system is that, with few exceptions, they saved for me right where I would have saved myself.
I have to admit that when I bought CoD2, I was concerned that I was buying it simply to fill the void that my still absent 360 wasn't filling. I had gone to Target, watched someone who wasn't retarded play CoD2 and then, using what I had seen, managed to get through the African level without getting blown up. It seemed like fun, but would it be enough fun to last for the entire game, or was I just looking to bring home anything for the 360, to get me through those long, cold nights? I'm certainly glad I purchased the game, and might actually go back and attempt the levels at harder difficulty levels to unlock additional achievements, which would be yet another thing about this game that I normally don't do with other games. I don't think it's going to get me to play additional WW2 shooters, but it's a fair testament to the idea that a good gameplay can get people to play games that they normally wouldn't, and forgive faults not forgiven in lesser titles.
Next week: Monkey Lovin' or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kong