So while, yes, the uniforms and tank models look better than ever thanks to that fancy scanning machine that NASA uses, and yes, we've never seen better smoke in a videogame, and yes, the impression of raging battle is impressive to the eyes and ears for much of the time, there's an equally crucial portion of the game when it all goes to pot and you're left with the feeling that you're playing an old, funnelled shooter against primitive enemy, going through the motions of things we've done so many, many times before. It's these things that, sadly, stick in your mind.
But if you're into the multiplayer aspect of Call of Duty, then you're definitely in luck, and it's this facet of the game that drags the review score up a notch. For a start, this year's version supports triple the number of players (24), of which four can join in for online action from the same box, not to mention split-screen and, of course, system link. This year there's six modes to enjoy either on ranked or unranked player matches, comprising Capture the Flag, Single Flag CTF, Headquarters (one team sets up an HQ and defends it, the other tries to infiltrate and attack), Team Battle (deathmatch), Battle (free for all deathmatch) and War (team mode where you battle to control spawn points). There's a lot to enjoy - most of it pretty familiar territory, for sure.
The key difference this year isn't just the presence of the nine excellent sprawling maps (with more to come online for sure), nor the ability to ride around in jeeps, tanks and motorbikes (with side cars), but the fact that it's gone all Team Fortress on us. Yes, this year you get to enjoy a class-based system with no fewer than seven different types to choose from, including Light and Heavy Assault, Medic, Scout, Support, Anti-Armour, and Rifleman. As you might expect, each play their own role and have specific strengths and weaknesses that - if played properly as a team - will make all the difference to your team's success. Each player has a predetermined loadout of two different weapons and a grenade (or mine), and is rated in terms of Damage, Range, Accuracy, Melee, Speed, and Rate of Fire, so, for example, a Medic has awful range and accuracy stats, but is great at melee and speed, while the Scout has great damage and range with his Springfield rifle, but is disadvantaged by his rubbish melee skills and low rate of fire. Tellingly, Activision has included some achievements to encourage those to take the less sexy Scout and Medic roles, so that should help balance things out in the short-term at least. Also, another thing to mention is that each player has their own special skill, so Scouts can mount artillery, Medics can revive downed soldiers, while the Rifleman has a deadly rifle grenade to go with his smoke grenade. It's beautifully balanced.
So far, with few players populating the servers, there have been no major incidences of lag, and we have thoroughly enjoyed every session so far. Certainly, for those with a PC gaming background, you'll appreciate the larger scale matches, the numerous ways to set options in game and the decent variety of modes. It certainly promises to be one of Live's most popular games ever, and arguably warrants a purchase for the online multiplayer alone - if that's your thing.
And there lies a straightforward decision. If you're only interested in the offline game and have maybe had your fill of WWII action, then Call of Duty 3 won't be for you. It's too stuck in its ways to provide any meaningful progression to the genre, and of the changes it has made to the gameplay, frankly none of them are worth getting excited about. Maybe if you're a committed fan then you'll be happy to overlooked the many criticisms we've jabbed in the chest of Call of Duty 3. Maybe you'll think we've gone raving mad for thinking the single-player's no better than a six out of ten, but no change there. It's much easier, though, to praise the advancements made to the multiplayer side of the game, where every new addition and every change is one that will help make it even more popular. If you spend a lot of your time online, then it's far more than a consolation 'bonus mode' to make up for the lacklustre single player offering - it's without doubt one of the better online games that console gaming has offered us all year. Maybe next year they can get both elements of the package spot on and we can start singing its praises again.