Call of Duty 3

Call of Duty 3

Treyarch picks up where Infinity Ward left off and can't quite duplicate the magic.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: November 28, 2006
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Activision is no stranger to the sequel. Perhaps even more than EA these days, ATVI finds a franchise that works (or licenses one if there's cross-sell potential), and then milks it for all its worth. Though the Call of Duty franchise may only have three proper numbered entries, developer Treyarch has been crafting a handful of console versions that took place in the same world, but they haven't really held a candle to the PC-focused versions that were originally created to go up against EA's Medal of Honor juggernaut.

So why was the series handed to Treyarch when Infinity Ward created the best-selling game on the 360? Simple: IW is working on COD4, and Activision, in pursuit of the almighty sequel dollar, has opted to having the teams trade off. And, well, World War II shooters, no matter how much I may bemoan them, still bring in those bucks, which is why we have COD3.

With an intro like that, you're probably expecting me to be all down on the first game that actually shares gameplay across the PC and current- and next-gen systems. I'm not. I'm tired of WWII shooters, sure (a good dozen of them in half as many years will do that to a person), but I won't knock what Treyarch was trying to do, which is detail the events of the Normandy Breakout from the American, British, Canadian and Polish sides of the Big One in way that further personifies the men that went to war for not just our country, but the free world.

Problem is, we've seen this sort of approach before, and though there's a very good reason for that (read: it works, and works well), it isn't until you get a good few hours into the game that it starts to feel like something new. Saddling a WWII game with the same scripted sequences and look-alike locales of games past isn't exactly a way to keep burned-out FPSers buying your games. Luckily, some of the cookie-cutter, linear, almost on-rails sections of the game take a back seat to some of the more interesting ones. Scripting is still prevalent (and in some cases a problem, but more on that in a second), but it's used in a more cinematic way than ever before.

Take, for instance, the hook of the very beginning of the game. You'll hop out of a jeep and explore a makeshift camp filled with American troops as you're taken through the basics of using a weapon (aim down the sights), grenades (L2 for smoke, R2 for frags/potato mashers, hold to cook them off), and some basic movement stuff (melee combat with a quick sideways rotational thrust of the SIXAXIS, Triangle and Circle to change from standing to ducking to prone and back up). It's all stuff fans of the series will know, but you quickly pile into the back of a transport and it's here that the game offers a fantastic scripted set of experiences; planes go whizzing overhead, troops are running across the road, and all the while your fellow soldiers are chatting it up.

Then the explosions come.

They're inevitable, and I even saw the telltale signs of someone about to bite it, but the transport getting rocked by explosions, the sequence of your fellow troops hauling you back up (with some pretty lighting to boot), and then the subsequent slow climb over a wall out into an absolute sea of axis and allies combatants going at it as the music crests was all pulled off very, very well. It all sort of fades back into that trademark series of seemingly never-ending respawning enemies that take up the same spots (that's your clue to push forward or you'll never move on), but for a moment there it all came together. And it happens a couple times in the game, along with plenty of conversations between soldiers, things meant to be as much Saving Private Ryan as they are Generic WWII Shooter Concept #15.
This if course relies on heavy scripting for a lot of sequences, and if you die, the punch is sort of taken out of things. There's also the issue of scripted sequences not even kicking off. More than once I had to completely restart the game (reloading a checkpoint didn't seem to work) after running around because a door didn't open. That this happened at all is unacceptable, but it did a good job of pulling me out of what was an otherwise solid (if linear) sequence of events on my way to notching just under 10 hours of the main story. Things like the completely surprising grapple moments with an enemy where you feverishly push the SIXAXIS back and forth toward the enemy were both cool and well presented, and they helped suck me back in, but the game did feel rather broken.

Online play was equally borked at times. Since there's no persistent tracking, and no ability to boot players that I could see, people are effectively encouraged to be dicks. Gameplay-wise, though, it was all wonderfully lag-free, (though the maps top out at 24 players and can feel terribly lifeless without at least half that many people playing), but trying to quit out and go back to the single-player (or, uh, turn the system off, though even first-party games lock up, which leads me to believe it's the PS3 or the way the OS is set up more than the games, since the PSP has done this a few times too).

Essentially biting the style off Team Fortress (or, more closely, the more current Wolfenstein/Enemy Territory games), you're able to pick a side and then a role from Sniper to Medic to Gunner, all with different loadouts and strengths in particular skills like speed, melee, firepower, and so on. It's a good way to mix things up, and since vehicles are in multiplayer, there's nothing more satisfying than to nearly pee yourself as you run around a corner only to watch a tank bear down on you and blow your little guy to bits, then to respawn as anti-armor and put a panzershrek rocket right up that same tank's pooper. Or, even better, just to run up behind it, climb up and drop a grenade down into the belly of the beast.

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