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 first WWII game that I ever played all the way through was Call of Duty.  I've never considered myself to be a very good military tactician, and typically find myself at a dead end in the more advanced stages of games that require it.  That said, I also never had much of an attention span for games that made me feel like I was standing on a conveyor belt moving through some fixed scenery, picking off automaton targets as I went by.  Call of Duty was the first game that allowed me to completely suspend disbelief and truly get the feeling of involvement in epic events.  It draws a near perfect balance between being led down a path while still providing the feeling that you have some autonomy in deciding exactly how to do so.  The well-timed scripting of the other characters, both friendly and enemy, and of momentous special effects keeps the action flowing and the adrenaline pumping right to the end of the game.

However...

That Call of Duty was on the PC.  I'd tried console-based first person games before, and found them to be extremely frustrating to play when compared to the more precise controllability on the PC.  There's just no substitute for the mouse as a precision pointing tool, and the analog sticks on the Xbox don't even come close.  The controls are so twitchy, at least to my old frayed nerves, that often as not I would get killed by an enemy that I had been ping-ponging my gunsight over for a relative eternity.  When Call of Duty 2: The Big Red One was released for the Xbox, I wondered whether or not it would offer the same levels of believability and fun play as the PC version I had been so thrilled with.  As it turns out, the answer is a qualified yes.

Call of Duty 2: The Big Red One on the Xbox has many of the same elements that made the PC version feel like a portal to circa 1940's live combat.  You start each mission with a briefing telling you the overall strategic picture and what your contribution to the effort is going to be.  It may be a matter of taking a building or piece of ground from the enemy, or conversely, it may be defending a militarily valuable commodity from falling into the wrong hands.  Armed with at least a general understanding of what you need to accomplish, but well aware that goals can change from moment to moment in the confused cacophony of a battlefield, you join your squad and begin your mission.

I didn't do exhaustive research on the topic, but it seems that your usual weapon of choice is the trusty M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle.  You will be going up against machine gun toting German soldiers, so having only the single-shot M1 may seem to be a huge disadvantage, but such is not necessarily the case.  To understand why, you need to know about the "Aim Down the Sight" (ADS) mode. To enter ADS mode, you simply pull back on the left trigger on the Xbox controller.  This brings the gun up to your shoulder and aligns the gun sight with your virtual eye.  It also provides two other essential things: first, it zooms the view to some degree, helping you to get a good look at your target.  Second, it slows the response rate of the analog stick used to aim the gun.  Slowing the aiming response rate alleviates the twitchiness that I found so frustrating in past console-based games like this.  Releasing the left trigger immediately returns you to the normal mode, which you will need to do if you need to re-aim the weapon quickly.  The response rate in the normal, non-ADS mode can be adjusted in the game settings if desired, but the ADS mode felt more realistic to me and using it for precision aiming rather than slowing the rate for non-ADS mode allowed me to retain the option of being able to make much faster corrections in the normal mode.

Now, why is the M1 sometimes better than a machine gun?  Simple: it provides a higher level of zoom in ADS mode.  This makes the M1 more useful for targeting distant enemy soldiers.  It's not quite a sniper rifle (which, by the way, you will get an opportunity to use a couple of times as you work your way through the campaign) but it does allow you to take out difficult, well entrenched targets from greater distances.
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