The stock of World War II has never been higher by the look of things, with Breakthrough, Rising Sun, Hidden & Dangerous II and now Call Of Duty staggering into the Eurogamer surgery for their routine check ups.
Last time out, we got to grips with an all too brief playable demo of Infinity Ward's spiritual successor to Allied Assault. Culled from the second level of the full game (on track for an early November launch we're assured) it gave us a glimpse of the 101st Airborne Division's preparations for D-Day in the early hours of June 6th 1944, taking out machine gunners camped in ruined buildings, and taking out the Flak Panzer Anti Aircraft tanks that are busy shooting up the night sky.
Dakka dakka dakka boom!
Picking up where the demo left off, the first task of the Dawnville level once again has you and your band of brothers scurrying around the ruins of Ste. Marie du Mont dodging enemy fire in search of a Panzer Faust to take out the tank that's aggressively blasting in your direction. Once you've located your weapon of choice, a quick click of the right mouse button brings the sights up to the screen, and a tap of the left button fires a rocket into the guts of the tank, resulting not only in a gigantic explosion, but the emergence of two disoriented, shell shocked Nazis, who stumble out of the wreckage and obligingly flop to the ground dead.
After taking out some mortar teams, the game progresses to the Carr Ride level, which is Call Of Duty's first on rails section, and basically involves being driven up the Normandy Route N3, shooting everything that comes your way and generally admiring some pretty spectacular driving that would shame a Hollywood action sequence. Think checkpoints smashed, cars bashed and plenty of scripted chatter along the way, which is always of the highest quality thanks to the hiring of some top Hollywood talent including Jason Statham and Giovanni Ribisi, and bolstered by the screenwriting talents of writer/producer Michael Schiffer (of Crimson Tide and The Peacemaker fame). The score deserves a special mention too, having been penned by Michael Giacchino, of - surprise surprise - Medal of Honor fame.
Moving on, the next level takes place later that night at the grounds of Brecourt Manor, with your squad horribly outgunned and outnumbered once again. German artillery bunkers have opened fire on the beaches and it's up to you and your men to take them out. Typically, it's another against the odds assault, and once again shows off some superb scripting that looks as slick as we've seen in an FPS. Throughout, you're reminding yourself that while this may not be especially original, it's definitely not going to disappoint anyone who likes their shooters as atmospheric and cinematic as possible.
But despite its predetermined scripted nature, it's not an air-headed blaster either, and features some decent AI that rarely makes any of the gun battles that straightforward. At no stage do your squad mates act stupidly, always taking intelligent cover, and even getting out of your way if you want to take over a gun emplacement. Enemy behaviour is also up to scratch; often taking up new positions should a bullet whistle past their head.
The scripting dynamic is pretty impressive too, for example during the excellent Pegasus Bridge level where you're tasked with laying down some suppressing fire to allow the safe passage of your engineer across a heavily guarded bridge. It's a small touch, but it makes you constantly feel involved, rather than just ticking off a list of tasks. Meanwhile, this level puts you in the boots of the British Special Forces for the first time in the game; a 'better trained' squad with 'better equipment', and presumably 'better accents'!
Moving on, the game changes pace somewhat in the 'Dam' level, throwing in the first solo mission which tasks you with taking out all the air defences in preparation for the arrival of the Dambusters. Arguably the most enjoyable mission so far, you snipe your way through the early part of the level, before descending into the heart of the dam and taking out the generators and anti-aircraft defences. The standard of the architecture and the superb rippling water effects in particular let you know that Infinity Ward has pushed the ageing Quake III Team Arena tech further than any previous developer, not only rewriting the scripting engine, but allowing them to create maps double the size of, say, Return To Castle Wolfenstein, and creating much more convincing character models in the process.
We prefer Red Bull
Rounding off our three-hour stint with the game was a quick tour of some of the Russian campaign. Starting with the intense Red Square level, we really see what this engine is capable of, rendering dozens of onrushing comrades, only too happy to die a glorious death in the name of protecting their country against the Nazi invaders. In game, this basically means having to firstly evade the relentless raking enemy fire from the numerous entrenched gun emplacements and work out a way of taking them out.
Rather like the insanity of the Omaha beach landing sequence in Allied Assault, this is a loud and bombastic experience that involves taking cover wherever possible, crouching the whole time and taking your chances. Eventually you find an entrance to a shattered building and dodge the numerous snipers on the way to gaining a safe vantage point to take out the Officers, which are effectively acting as spawn points down below. With them out of the way, your comrades pour forward unhindered and you're then free to take out the snipers camped in various points of the building opposite with your Scoped Hosin Nagrant - or your PPSh fully automatic if you're feeling lucky.
The final level of our playable excursion took place in Pavlov's House, on a mission to flush Nazis out of a four story block. We looked for his faithful hound, but alas he was nowhere to be seen. Undeterred, we pushed on. One of our comrades bravely rushed the building to flush out the snipers, giving us a chance to pop a few of their heads in the process. Scarily enough, the Nazis wise up to your antics and begin zeroing in Howitzer shells behind you, forcing you to take refuge in the building you're trying to clear.
Blow 'em up
Trouble is, it's absolutely teeming with Nazis who are only too happy to drop grenades through the broken floorboards and generally make your life hell. Well, two can play at that game, and lobbing grenades into suspicious corners proved an effective way of clearing camping Nazi scum, either bringing them fleeing into the firing line or - better still - blasting their bodies through the air. But if a building packed with deadly enemy wasn't enough, a whole procession of tanks are heading your way, and your only option is to take them out - in between mowing down a procession of Nazis. All in a day's work, eh?
During this massive melee the air is alive with taunts such as "How do you like that, Fritz?" and "You can Heil Hitler in hell!" from the triumphant Ruskies, rather amusingly. Perhaps one of Call Of Duty's most endearing features is this constant derogatory chatter among both sides (although our German isn't that great, so we're not sure what they're bellowing back). Not only does it add a layer of depth and atmosphere to an already very involving experience, it's often quite useful to hear your superiors shouting instructions. Our congrats go out to those involved for pulling it off so convincingly.
You could safely say we've enjoyed what we've seen (and heard) from Call Of Duty thus far. You could also safely add it to your list of 'must have' games if you want some cinematic WWII combat to go with excellent AI, great visuals that won't cripple your PC, as well as plenty of memorable set pieces. We've not experienced the multiplayer as yet, but the promise of giant-sized maps bodes well for some excellent battles. The full game should be with us in the not too distant future, so expect a full, in-depth review nearer its early November release date.