Many of the key improvements and evolutions of Call Of Duty 2 over the original have been well charted already. We’ll come to them shortly. But let’s throw convention out of the window and start with something smaller, yet equally significant. For Call Of Duty 2 has done away with two things; quick save and a health bar.
Let’s stop and consider that for a second. When you look at the recently-released – and highly recommended – F.E.A.R., you have a game that actively encourages you to regularly hit F5 to save your progress, while liberally slapping first-aid kits all around the map. It’s as if the designers realise you’re going to die regularly and will therefore need patching up a lot.
Call Of Duty 2 makes no such concessions. Here, the game chooses when it saves your progress, and instead of getting you to pay attention to a bar at the bottom of the screen, to understand your health you need to pay attention to visual indicators on screen.
Get wheezy and bleary-eyed and you know you’re in trouble. Yet you replenish your health simply by stepping out of the firing line for a little while, and it works like a charm. Obviously on the highest difficulty levels it’s not quite so simple, but as a design choice, this actually makes you focus more on the on-screen action and, crucially, on staying alive.
For Call Of Duty 2 is an immense experience, and one that leaves you at times feeling suitably mentally assaulted. Played across four different campaigns – over which you have an element of choice about the order you tackle them – the game is primarily a first-person shooter, with occasional areas when vehicles are called into action.
Its missions cover intense, all-action firefights, huge set-piece face-offs between the two sides and quieter, yet incredibly tense, tasks. And doing what it does best, the game produces sequences and cinematic set-pieces that are absolutely staggering.
Unmatched by any game in its genre, Call Of Duty 2 has other tricks up its sleeve as well. For instance, the soldiers around you will constantly talk, bark orders and shout, sometimes giving meaningful and useful information.
Then there’s the new smoke mechanics. Lots of spent grenades and munitions produce smoke, and the handy smoke grenades do too. That smoke then provides an excellent cover for sneaking around the enemy, and consequently adds a valid and exciting new tactical angle. And when you factor in the option of tackling missions in different ways, it adds up to some significant enhancements all round.
But then there are a couple of worrying steps backward. The new health system may not, for instance, be to everyone’s taste, but there are changes on top of that which prove more controversial. First, on the compass that acts as a radar of sorts to your objective, the position of enemies is marked once you’ve spotted them. That straight away removes part of the game’s challenge, especially in the previously-tense situations where you try to pinpoint a rooftop sniper.
Second, you’re now warned when a grenade has been thrown in your direction to give you time to escape. But why? Did anyone complain about the way grenades were used in previous Call Of Duty games? What was wrong with the old system of having to be completely aware of what’s going on? In online games in particular, this is an unwelcome dumbing down and a move that simply wasn’t necessary.
Which all makes Call Of Duty 2 an oddity of a sequel. The cinematic sequences are better than ever and the sheer immersive majesty of the game on top form is unrivalled. But strange compromises have somewhat tainted the experience for no apparent reason, and have the ultimate effect of pulling an excellent game back down to the ‘very good’ category. It’s still worth playing: it just could, with simple adjustments, have been that bit better.