Another way in which Call of Duty 3, just like the previous iterations in the CoD series, breaks convention is in the area of personal health. Most FPS games require you to hunt for health packs or try to get assistance from a medic player. In CoD, you will recover from hits simply by getting out of the line of fire and waiting a few minutes to recover. Obviously there are plusses and minuses to that approach. On the plus side, it allows you to keep up with the train of events better since you don’t have to periodically go off on an Easter egg hunt. This is extremely important in CoD because the flow of the battle is fairly tightly scripted, and would bog down if you (the central character in the play) were to wander off in search of health packs. On the minus side, knowing that you can absorb tremendous amounts of damage and recover easily can lead to some of the Rambo behavior I mentioned before. Note that this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that you cannot manually save progress through the game. Since you have to get to the next save point or risk losing all progress by adopting an ill-advised overly aggressive attack mode, there is a tendency in some of the longer stretches to play somewhat conservatively, just as you would if your life was really on the line. It’s interesting that CoD3 provides both situations that call for a slow, methodical approach and situations that reward aggressive attacks. It’s left to you to decide which approach is appropriate in any given situation, which again lends authenticity to the experience. Be aware of this, though: there are a few missions that you will do over and over until you can work your way to the save point. Let’s just say that there is a road in France that I hope never to have to cross again!
That said, the health management scheme in CoD is only one of a number of ways that the designers kept the game approachable to non-hardcore gamers. The goal of the Call of Duty games is to provide an enjoyable, and perhaps awe-inspiring, cinematic experience to all audiences. To that end, there are a number of subtle “helpers” built in to help less experienced gamers keep the flow of events going. For example, you may get a glimpse of a German soldier peaking out from behind a tree. You swing around to aim your gun in his general direction and lift the gun to your cheek to sight down the barrel. The game will automatically give your aim a little, unobtrusive nudge to tighten up your aim just a bit. This is immensely helpful when you’re pinned down by a machine gun: you can pop out from behind your cover, quickly aim and zoom, fire off a few rounds, and duck back behind your cover. Depending on the situation, you can also hang back behind your squad mates and let them do the dangerous work. They’re actually pretty good at it and make a serious contribution to your efforts, although there are times when they might forget where you are and insert themselves between your gun and its intended target. “Sorry about that, fella!”
As I mentioned briefly above, in addition to battles as an infantryman in the United States 29th Infantry Division you also have the opportunity to play as a soldier from one of the many Allied countries. You will drive a Sherman tank in the Polish 1st Armored Division, fight as a Canadian soldier in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and team up with members of the French Resistance in your role as a Special Forces team member in the British Special Air Service (SAS). The accents of the foreign fighters lend a high degree of authenticity to the game, as do the little spats that break out when stress levels reach the breaking point.
So, is Call of Duty 3 the absolute pinnacle of perfection in WWII FPS games? Well, no. But it’s getting there. Some past criticisms of the series have been that the paths are very linear (somewhat akin to the chute cattle are led through on the way to their demise) and don’t leave a lot of room for ad hoc flanking maneuvers, the environments aren’t destructible so it is possible to unrealistically find cover behind lightweight wooden crates, etc., and the lack of hand-to-hand combat. These issues have begun to be addressed in CoD3, but not to the ultimate level that they should be. I found that every now and then an enemy would hide behind something that I could destroy with gun fire, but that it was far more often the case that bullets would have no effect whatsoever on whatever the enemy was crouched behind. I also found that there were, in fact, alternate paths that could be used to attack an entrenched enemy, but that I was also very often stymied by a one foot tall hedge that I couldn’t step over or some other obstruction that forced me back into the chute. I’m not sure if the event scripting technology inherent in a choreographed experience like CoD will ever allow for a completely open battlefield, but there is certainly still opportunity for improvement.
As it stands today, though, Call of Duty 3 represents the state-of-the-art in Cinematic war simulations. If you don’t have the lucre to move up to an Xbox 360, you will be able to add another years life to your legacy Xbox with CoD3 while not giving up all that much in the game experience. Much like HDTV, however, you would find it very difficult to move back down to the lower resolution alternative. With that caveat, I believe Call of Duty 3 belongs on every Xbox owner’s wish list for the imminent holiday season.
The next iteration of Activision’s Call of Duty series, Call of Duty 3 for the Xbox, wrings the last dregs of capability from the Xbox aging console and satisfyingly delivers on the promise of an upgraded Call of Duty 2.
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