As much as we loved Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault, it was as scripted and linear an FPS as you could ever wish to play. It seems that whatever you did, until you reach a predetermined invisible barrier the game would just sit and wait for you, with your assembled squaddies crouched patiently until you lead them forward.
It makes for a great looking game when you're playing by its rules, but if you feel like being mischievious and going off for a cup of tea, your men will still be sitting there as if nothing ever happened. If you're expecting Call Of Duty to stray from this constant lead-you-by-the-hand template, then you'll be disappointed. On the other hand, if you appreciate the cinematic atmosphere and all-action approach then this Call Of Duty refines the idea to excellent effect.
This keenly awaited demo level is set on the night of D-Day, June 6th 1944 in the shattered, burning village of Ste. Mere Eglise, five miles from Utah beach. It's all a bit chaotic; nobody's been dropped when they were supposed to, and you've lost touch with your unit. Having managed to hook up with the five strong Baker Company headed up by Captain Foley. You start the mission approaching a narrow field with a minefield on either side, with the goal of taking out the three Flak Panzer Anti Aircraft tanks that are busy shooting up the skies of the village, and capturing the area from the Nazis.
The noise of chaos
From the off, the level is alive with detail, noise and the chaos of war; men parachute into nearby fields, a posse of Allied planes soar overhead dodging thunderous anti-aircraft fire, while the deafening sound of gunfire is emitted from nearby flaming wrecks of destroyed buildings, evidently the former homes of civilians.
The first task is pure Allied Assault; rush for cover as the enemy fire whistles past your ears, while your comrades charge, huddling up against whatever lies between soft flesh and hot lead. Having picked off the collection of Nazis ducking in and out of window frames, you crawl under a gap in the fence toward the ruins, moving through the building, collecting whatever health packs or weapons that you can find scattered around. Approaching the adjacent building, you dive through a window, closely followed by the rest of the Baker Company, and endure a close quarters firefight before your team takes their position at the back exit.
Predictably, there's a whole bunch of Nazis to take out first, which is a fairly easy task, before you head for the bombed out remains of the village church. At this stage, you get to see what the deafening noise is, with an AA gun trained on the night sky shooting a massive trail of hot tracer fire into the air. Clearly they've got to go.
Tick tick tick. Boom!
With them out of the way, you get to blow up the first Flak Panzer Anti Aircraft tank by planting explosives on a translucent target with the 'use' key, which is another obvious lift from Allied Assault. Seconds later, a huge explosion erupts and you're off to destroy the second of the three, but not before carefully picking off everyone in sight. Before you know it, it's all over and you're left contemplating playing it again on a harder difficulty level. So we did.
On the second of four difficulty levels it's almost pointlessly easy (Easy mode must be like god mode); with so many health packs dotted around you're in no real danger of dying unless you're particularly frivolous. The third of four ('Hardened') didn't exactly feel that much more difficult either. Less health packs, maybe, but barely more of a challenge.
It's hard to make an informed decision on Call Of Duty from such a small slice of the finished game (which features 24 levels across four campaigns), but ostensibly the obvious initial conclusion to draw is that it's not as much of a leap over Allied Assault as you would hope and expect from such a talented team.
Polished, but we've seen better
For example, Infinity Ward claims to have basically rewritten almost every aspect of the Quake III graphics engine that still beats away at its core, but it's by no means a generational leap over Allied Assault. Sure, it's more polished; the scenery is more alive, better textured and has a far better animation system, but it doesn't wow like other recent FPS engines we've witnessed, although it ran on our P4 2.2GHz, GeForce4 rig at full detail with nary a stutter. Maybe Call Of Duty will impress more in the full game (for example, with the promise of being able to render 300 men on screen at once), but this rather shallow demo does little to prove anything out of the ordinary.
The AI is another moot point. Again, there are significant signs of improvement, especially the way your comrades get out of your way, or issue instructions to "take out the left flank" and the like. Similarly impressive is the efficient way they duck and take intelligent cover in whatever surroundings you find yourself in, and path finding is way more convincing than we've seen to date, with no discernable occasion when the AI players wander into walls or each other like lemmings. On the other hand, it's all confusingly let down by the way your mates still appear to behave like cannon fodder at times, while seemingly endless reinforcements arrive whenever they do die. It's odd to say the least when you see your comrades gunned down, only to see them magically replaced by new soldiers from nowhere, just in time for the next section of the level. Whuh?
It's also hard to draw too much from the available weapons in the demo: the Allied weapons in the level include the Colt 45, M1A1 Carbine, Thompson Full Auto and M2 Frag Grenade, plus their German equivalents. They're solid, believable, and look great, but feel and sound almost identical to the weapons used in Allied Assault. An obvious thing to say, maybe, but it's a fact, and contributes to the sense of déjà vu that prevails.
One area that has had a pleasing tweak is the control system. The system employed now allows for three stances: Stand, Crouch and Prone, which are assigned to Space, C and Shift respectively unless you remap them, and hitting jump brings you out of either, which helps enormously when trying to make a sharp exit. Just as neatly implemented is the system of alternate fire, with the right mouse button assigned to allow you to aim down the sight by default, giving you a better degree of accuracy at the expense of speed.
Call Of Duty is undoubtedly a highly polished exercise in WWII combat, and is as entertaining as any scripted, linear FPS should be. But the feeling remains on the basis of this demo that Infinity Ward hasn't done a great deal to break away from the rigid, linear Allied Assault template, leaving a sense of an incremental improvement rather than a revolutionary product. It's certainly not "ten times better than Allied Assault" as some of the hysterical preview coverage has suggested. But despite our early playable reservations, we still await the full version with interest and hope that in the words of Captain Foley, "You ain't seen nothin' yet".