Suspension of disbelief - a willingness of a reader or viewer to suspend his or her critical faculties to the extent of ignoring minor inconsistencies so as to enjoy a work of fiction.
Apparently, when the D-Day landings happened, there actually wasn’t a big green arrow in the sky pointing at the Nazis, nor were there little health packs strewn around the battlefield at strategic points, or heavily signposted checkpoints that acted as resting points for the battle weary. Whether the inclusion of these things in most World War based video games can be considered a ‘minor inconsistency’ I’m not sure, but certainly most gamers are used to this kind of thing, and it’s not normally something one would criticize a game of this kind for. It is understandable that games have to work around these things; save points are essential, getting lost is no fun, and ‘health bars’ that need refilling with ‘health packs’ are a given…
Or are they? Have games like Halo not taught us that there are other ways round these issues? Call of Duty 2 (CoD2), despite its early Twentieth Century setting, is actually not unlike Halo in many ways. There are no save points, instead the game will automatically save itself every time you get through a section of play, no matter how short, and you are alerted to this not with a ‘LEVEL COMPLETED’ message across the screen in gold capital letters, but with a small, unobtrusive ‘checkpoint reached’ alert in the corner. The health system is also similar to Halo, but is also not unlike the much more realistic war sim Operation Flashpoint. There actually is no bar as such, instead the only indication that you have been hit is the blood on the screen, the blurred focus and the scream of pain. Once you do get hit, if you can find some cover and avoid fire for a moment, you’ll recover and recharge, hence the comparison to Halo. But, if you don’t manage to find some cover and you find yourself stuck in-between a rock and a Nazi machine gunner, then you are just a shot or two away from death, and although it’s not Game Over quite as quickly as it can be in Flashpoint, finding yourself without cover creates a similar feeling of helplessness.
Apart from the changes to the health system CoD2 is very much like it’s predecessor, splitting the game into three sections and three points of view on the conflict; first Russian, then English, and finally American, and with each section you get the appropriate costume, weaponry and voice acting… if handlebar mustachioed cockneys shouting ‘You bloody wankers’ at the Bosh is authentic anyway. The play itself is mostly made up of you being almost literally dragged around the battlefield by your commanding officer and the rest of your band of brothers. To say it is linear is somewhat missing the point, as CoD could never work as a sandbox experience. It’s the constant rushing from way points and the quick fulfilling of commands as they get barked at you that create the feeling of being on a real battlefield, and it’s a genuinely confusing and at times frightening experience. Thankfully the inferior solo sections of CoD have been left out, although occasionally you do go lone wolf to take out some gunners while your squad draw fire or something, but you never feel like it’s a solo effort, and even when you do go out on your own, you know your team is nearby to lend you support.
Graphically, it compares to what you would probably expect CoD2 to look like on a top end PC, and you can’t really ask for more. There is an incredible amount going on around the screen at all times, with huge armies fighting it out, smoke grenades, shrapnel, particle effects and all kind of chaos to help create the affect of being on a battlefield. The sound is absolutely incredible, and is the best reason to own a 7.1 set sup since, well, CoD1. There physics don’t seem quite as advanced as something like Half Life 2, but the bodies do fly around pleasingly enough when you chuck a grenade in a bunker. All in all it is technically very sound, and is proof that consoles really have now caught up with PCs, for now anyway.
It seems futile to me to get into the things that CoD2 does not do in comparison to other games. For example, some will point at the linear nature of the game in comparison to Far Cry, others will complain that the weaponry is both generic and limited compared to other current shooters, and although it looks great, it doesn’t compare with the pyrotechnics/slow motion/camera affect extravaganza that is F.E.A.R. But for me it comes back to this issue of suspension of disbelief. This is something that is rarely talked about in relation to games, as it is very difficult to imagine you are fighting on a French beach sixty years ago sat on a leather sofa with a wireless pad in your hands and a Twix in your gob. Still, by taking away the health bar, the medipacs, the save points and such, another barrier between you and the fantasy that the game has created comes down, and as a result the game is more immersive, more absorbing, and yes, more believable. An unranked soldier would never have had the amount of options option to Jack in Far Cry, nor the technology to carry out his stunts. It is right that you are pulled by the scruff of your neck around the game by your commanding officer, and if someone did try some Jack like antics, I would them expect to be shot on sight!
CoD2 won’t appeal to everyone; some people will just never get past the feeling of being a spectator it can give you. Perhaps the trick is not to see it as an FPS, more of a, dare I say, interactive movie. Your twitch FPS skills will rarely be called upon and providing covering fire is generally more important that head shots. Still, the game is exhilarating and always action packed, and is about as close to recreating the atmosphere of a war field as a game is likely to get.
It may not deserve much in the way of a replay, although on the 360 playing it through on verteran is the only way to get any achievements, but it is worth it for the first glorious run through. It superbly treads the balance between being realistic and being fun, and while it may not be for the most hardcore of shooter fans, most gamers I would have thought would get caught up in its wonderful, yet terrible atmosphere.
7 / 10