When I was offered the opportunity to review Call of Duty 3 for the Xbox, I leapt at it. I remember Call of Duty 2 on the PC and how high it raised the bar for me when it comes to tactical war games. I really liked the cinematic aspect of it, the immersive feeling of being overwhelmed by the cacophony of battle, and the way the action could pull me along like a raging current moves a kayak. I wondered, though, how the aging Xbox platform would perform with a game that would clearly be pushing the limits of even the newer Xbox 360. Frankly, I didn't expect much in comparison to the much higher resolutions and faster processors of the PC and 360, and as unfair as it is, I knew I would be unable to avoid making such comparisons.
I am not disappointed. No, the graphics obviously aren't on a par with the superior capabilities of the newer consoles or my older PC, but they are very good in comparison with other legacy Xbox games. The screen can be a bit dark for my tastes, making it difficult at times to see enemy soldiers that are more than a few yards away, but it helps enormously that they can see me and often will give away their positions by the muzzle flash as they fire at me, though. I can usually get them to at least duck or stop firing just long enough to get myself behind some cover by firing back at the muzzle flashes. Beyond that, the details of the war-torn towns and fields around Normandy are spectacular. Not that the destruction of property and lives is a good thing, mind you, but history is history and I appreciate the attention to detail evidenced by the design team. The two of three of you that have read my past reviews know that I am big into the idea of a truly immersive suspension-of-disbelief when it comes to games, and Activision truly delivers with CoD3.
In fact, the entire Call of Duty series has created and dominated a niche that I call Cinematic games. A Cinematic game puts tremendous emphasis on making the player feel like a participant in events of such immense scale that the player is to a discernable degree just along for the ride. Where this differs from simply watching a movie, though, is in the level of individual participation. In CoD3, you are not going to single-handedly change the overall course of events, but your individual contributions are still important. In fact, the entire authenticity of the experience is based on that premise. Much like a real GI (whether you are American, Canadian, British, or Polish – you play roles as all four in CoD3) back in August of 1944, you have no real understanding of the overall historical importance of any given battle or objective – history has not yet determined the macro picture of these momentous events. All you know is that you are tasked with one highly dangerous objective after another, and while you have some understanding of why your success or failure on any objective is important (hint: if you succeed, you live. If you fail, you die) and you have a rudimentary understanding of the higher purpose, you don’t know that someday the Normandy Invasion will be viewed as the turning point in the war against Hitler’s expansionism. You also know that you cannot do it all alone. You have to depend on the rest of your squad to do their jobs too; there’s no room for Rambo in this particular war.
As you can imagine, it takes quite a bit of effort to truly engage a player in an experience like this. The graphics have to be believable, the sounds have to be authentic, and the actions of the other players on the field of battle have to be realistic. CoD3, just like its precursors, delivers the goods. All of the CoD titles are distinctive in their tremendously high production values, but CoD3 improves on what was already the most engrossing and entertaining series of WWII FPS games available today. For example, new to CoD3 is the ability to pick up an enemy grenade and toss it back. That simple feature adds a new element to the fight: your response to a grenade landing at your feet is no longer a choice between running away or dropping prone and hoping for the best. Now you have to make a snap decision as to whether you have a better chance of turning the tables on the guy that threw the grenade, or sticking with the old method of avoidance. Now, truth be told, I tried tossing the grenade back a few times and found my odds of success to be far lower than my odds of survival using the duck and cover method. But that’s just my experience – yours can (and likely will) be completely different. And that, in a nutshell, is what makes the upgrade or initial acquisition of CoD3 a worthwhile investment.
Even beyond the newly enhanced reality of grenade swapping, CoD3 has other features that suck you into the virtual battlefield. The cut scenes between objectives are well done and quite entertaining, although players of French ancestry may get a little annoyed at the stereotyped attitudes regarding the French Army’s capabilities evidenced by the chatter amongst the GIs. Truth be told, the cut scenes tend to (accurately?) display the friction that could occur in the trenches when Allied soldiers of different nationalities had to work together. Another change from previous iterations is that it takes a lot more time to perform actions such as placing explosives or operating equipment. Rather than just plaster the explosive charge to the unit intended to be destroyed, there are now more realistic steps involved like inserting the fuse, removing the safety wire, and the like. It’s easy to do, but it takes enough time that you have to make sure you aren’t going to get shot while you’re doing it. The intent of all of this from the developers’ point of view is to increase the reality and believability quotients, again in an effort to maximize the cinematic aspects of the game, and for the most part they have been very successful.
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