Call of Duty 2: Big Red One
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.
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
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.
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.
Rating: 8 Good
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.
My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.
While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.
My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.