Call of Duty 2: Big Red One

Review

posted 11/29/2005 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
One Page Platforms: Xbox
The M1 is by no means the only weapon you will use, though.  As you progress across North Africa, you will have to jump in and replace a fallen comrade on various heavier guns like turret mounted .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, and believe it or not, the chin, belly, tail, and top turret guns on a B-24 Liberator bomber.  Note that while shooting down German fighters from a B-24 was fun, as was dropping its bomb load on an oil refinery, these missions are a pretty harsh break from the normal ground-pounding one would expect from an infantry troop.  It simply defies belief that a foot soldier would ever find himself in the role of aerial combatant, so you really have to work to maintain the suspension of disbelief you have been able to keep going in prior missions.  Again, the B-24 missions are tremendous fun and very well done, up to and including the requirement to walk through the length of the bomber to get from the gun and bomb sight in the nose to the tail gunner position, but they do seem out of place in the overall game.

What made Call of Duty so special on the PC was the cinematic experience of feeling like a participant in major battle without the additional challenge of trying to figure out exactly where you were and where you needed to be, and that feeling is preserved in Big Red One.  As you make your way across the battlefield, be it an open field or a claustrophobic village, there are countless peripheral events taking place that give the feeling of reality.  Bombs and artillery shells are going off, enemy armor is moving into place, and other troops are shouting to each other pointing out enemy positions (which can be very, very useful to you!).  As explosions rock the ground, dust and smoke fill the air, sometimes causing difficulty in seeing the enemy.  Shots kick up dust clouds at your feet, encouraging you to keep moving or to find cover.  It can be very hectic indeed, which again adds to the reality quotient.  It was often the case that I became completely lost in the maelstrom and could only proceed by finding and following other troops in my squad.  Good thing they weren't looking to me for leadership!

This led to one of my biggest frustrations with the game, though.  It wasn't uncommon to come up against a battlefield situation that took repeated efforts to get around.  There's nothing wrong with that, but because of the design choice to only allow for the saving of a game position after a mission is completed it was often the case that I had to ban younger family members from using the Xbox for hours at a time.  As you work your way through a mission, you will cross multiple checkpoints.  If you are killed in a battle, you are returned to the most recent checkpoint crossed.  That works well, assuming that you have hours to devote to a single mission.  If, on the other hand, you have spent an hour getting to the most recent checkpoint and events in the real world require your attention, you are faced with the difficult decision as to whether you want to relinquish control of the Xbox knowing that you will have to work through all of the previous battles just to get back to where you are now or fight off hordes of kids that want their turn to play.  Allowing the player to save the progress at each checkpoint would have made this decision far easier and gone a long way towards preventing familial civil war.

I had one other major frustration, although I cannot be certain that it was entirely the fault of the game.  The problem I had was the overall darkness of the screen on some of the maps.  There were many occasions when the screen was so dark that I couldn't see the enemy soldiers, and at times couldn't even see the path I was supposed to follow.  On the PC, there would have been a gamma correction option to allow me to lighten up the screen so I could see what was going on, but I was unable to find a similar configuration option on the Xbox.  I was playing using a pretty good TV, so although I can't stated with any absolute authority that the problem was with the game rather than the TV, I can say that I'm pretty sure that that was the case.  In any event, these were the times that I more or less allowed my computer-driven squad mates to take the lead and I followed them to the best of my ability.

Call of Duty 2: Big Red One stresses visual appeal, cinematic-style scripting, and immersive graphical environments to provide an entertaining tour of WWII battlefields.  The combination of multiple sensory inputs allows for a very believable environment and is the primary draw of the game.  That said, if you are a fan of tactical challenges and enjoy commanding troops as you struggle with a resourceful and challenging enemy, you should consider something along the lines of Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood.  If you want to while away a few hours immersed in the world of WWII combat, though, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is the appropriate choice, and a very good choice at that.



B-
Call of Duty 2 : Big Red One will more than likely be the final version of this well-respected title for the Xbox. While it probably uses everything the aging Xbox platform has to offer, and it corrects at least some of the complaints from the previous version, it can't compete with the sequels available for the PC and Xbox 360. Perhaps titling it Call of Duty 1.5 would have been more accurate.


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