Gray Matter Studios / TreyarchPublisher:
November 1, 2005ESRB:
T (Teen)Written by:
It seems that a lot of the time when a really big game comes out for the PC or maybe the Xbox, (in this case Xbox360) the developer might alongside it make another similar game that’s “adjusted” (read: dumbed down) for the less powerful consoles. These games usually never live up to the standards of their bigger brothers and a lot of the time just end up looking like a poor man’s imitation. At first glance this might look like what Call of Duty 2 Big Red One is. It is obvious that this game was really just made so that those unable to experience Call of Duty 2 on the PC or Xbox360 wouldn’t be left out in the cold. But is it really viable consolation for current gen console owners?
A staple of the WWII sub-genre has always been the authentic WWII presentation that always helps to bring you into the war with authentic looking environments, guns, and soldiers. Big Red One takes things a little bit further by taking you through the path of the US First Infantry Division, otherwise known as the Big Red One.
Each of the division’s different campaigns, North Africa, Italy, and France-Germany, are introduced by clips from old WWII documentaries presented by the Military Channel. Each one giving a brief description of what parts of the war you’ll be going through as well as a little history lesson on the Division itself, which is a nice way to go the extra mile on Treyarch’s part.
Once you get to the beginning of each mission, you are usually met with a cutscene with either a casual conversation with your war buddies or a briefing of what’s to come. These cutscenes are carried out well due to motion capture that allows characters to move realistically.Cutscenes are also presented well through exceptional voice acting from some of the cast of the HBO series Band of Brothers. Each of the main characters has their own personality and will also grow psychologically as the game goes on. There’s a real attempt here to actually make the player care when one of these characters is shot or killed. In addition, these cutscenes keep you in the first person viewpoint, which helps them transfer seamlessly to and from gameplay, where scripted actions and events between you and NPCs still take place, which means you’re almost never taken out of the action.
Big Red One’s musical score isn’t really a big part of the game as most of the time the background audio is pure ambience. Usually when an event happens (like one of your teammates getting shot), a relatively short, dramatic, and fully orchestrated theme will play which does good to underscore the situation. But as far as I could see this was the only real use of any music in this game.
This game’s presentation is really just like any other WWII shooter with the usual authentic elements. However Treyarch went and did a little extra with a somewhat compelling set of characters that are voiced and animated with talent, which serves to add something a little more to the experience.
Let me start out by saying what you might already know: Call of Duty 2 Big Red One on the current gen consoles does not have nearly the same level of graphics that Call of Duty 2 does on the PC or Xbox360. Anyone who’s looked at screenshots for both games can tell right away that they are on completely separate levels from each other. But this does not mean that Big Red One is a bad looking game.
At first glance Big Red One’s visuals can look pretty dated, but once I actually started playing the game I started to discover a surprising amount of detail in the game, specifically in the environments. The battlefields in this game, which are mostly war-torn cities, trenches, or deserts, are pretty intricate featuring all kinds of blown-apart structures and geometry. A lot of this detail can also be seen at a distance thanks to the nice draw distance in this game. Although textures are all pretty average, Big Red One’s environments do a good enough job of bringing you into the action.
Character designs are pretty basic, with the main focus being on your 4 buddies, each of whom has distinguishing features in their face and build. Everyone else (especially the Germans) all look the same with only two types: those with helmets and those without helmets. All characters however, have feature a fair amount of detail and despite their average polygon counts, it’s still impressive to see 40 or 50 of them fighting on screen all at once with minimal hiccups in the framerate. During cutscenes realistic character animations do well to make up for any shortcomings in character models.
One effect that surprised me a little bit is the nature of the ragdoll physics in this game. Instead of implementing full ragdoll physics in which enemies simply fall like limp husks once killed, many of them will go from a death animation into the ragdoll state once killed, a technique being implemented into some of the newer action games. So for instance if you shoot an enemy dead while they are running, they’ll stumble, and then fall limp, which looks just a little bit more realistic.
Effects such as explosions and gunfire also add to the game’s sense of action. When a shell hits the ground near you there is a great cloud of dust and smoke that shoots out around you, many times obscuring your vision, letting you know that it’s time to move.
I’m not really sure if this game supports progressive scan on the Gamecube as no prompt comes up when you start the game. This could mean that the game doesn’t have it at all or that it just instantly converts over without prompting you. Either way the game still supports 16:9 for those with widescreen sets.
Treyarch put a lot of care into the voice talent of this game but did not just stop there. Those with a good enough system should appreciate the sounds of all the chaos that goes on over the course of each battle. Shell explosions, hails of gunfire different for each distinct weapon, and all that chatter from your buddies will give you a good sense of the action that’s going on. The sound of gunfire and explosions is ever-present in the background and you can hear it all in Dolby Pro Logic II (or 5.1 on the Xbox).
Although you won’t get the super slick textures or high definition that you might find on regular COD2, Big Red One does push out some decent graphics at a smooth framerate… on its own level that is.
I have not played very many other WWII shooters but playing this game for a short while still lets me know what separates the Call of Duty games from the rest: a great sense togetherness with the others in your group, the sense that you are actually part of squad rather than a one man army.
The main thing that sets Call of Duty apart from other WWII games is that in Call of Duty, if you stray too far from your buddies or stick your head from out of cover for even a few seconds, chances are you are going to be torn to pieces. Constantly strafing doesn’t work either. This is not run n’ gun action here. You must take care in where you take cover, when you come out to shoot, and when you advance to another cover point. Otherwise you will not last very long.
This element in the game, like in the past COD games, does a very good job of making you feel like you are in the middle of the action along with all your teammates by your side. You have to move along with them to one point where you all must dig in and fight until the enemy there is eliminated, then move on until you all must dig in at another spot to repeat the process and eventually complete objectives.
The reason for this style of gameplay is because of the intensity of the battles. From the moment you step into the battlefield you are barraged with an almost constant hail of gunfire and you must always be conscious of where you are in respect to where your enemies are. Although the enemy AI in the beginning parts of the game isn’t terribly unforgiving, there is still some sense of challenge present. In the later missions however, enemies become more and more relentless, sometimes being able to kill you in seconds because of a simple mistake on your part. This is what enforces the whole “stay together” style of play in Call of Duty.
Unlike Call of Duty 2, which uses the regenerative health system of Halo, Big Red One uses a normal health system where you have a bar at the HUD and must heal it with medkids that you’ll find scattered all over the place. Some have said that the regenerative health system felt kind of weird in Call of Duty 2 because it didn’t have the science fiction setting to back it up like Halo did. Well it’s gone here in favor of a more conventional health system.
As you progress trough Call of Duty 2, almost everything that goes on is scripted to happen when you reach a certain point. Treyarch has used scripted events to give the game a very cinematic feel and in ways make it feel more intense, with no shortage of “holy sh*t did you see that!?” moments. Although you are sort of led along throughout the entire course of the game, it almost never feels restrictive and certainly does not feel boring the first time you play through.
When you are in the heat of battle in Big Red One, you will have an assortment of probably a couple dozen different kinds of weapons at your disposal. Sub machine guns, rifles, a few sniper rifles, big machine guns, and the occasional bazooka. Most of the time you’ll be fighting close up with a sub machine gun or taking shots with a more accurate rifle. Occasionally you’ll jump behind an MG42 (German machine gun) or a big cannon for anti-vehicle combat.
Although most of the fighting in Big Red One is on foot, there are also plenty of vehicle missions where you’ll be in tanks or the backs of trucks. You’ll even play as a gunner in a flying fortress and mark targets for bombing. While these special missions don’t take up a huge part of the game, they are still designed just as well as the rest of the game. The gunner missions are pretty intense and the two tank missions are fun enough, giving the game a bit of variety.
Like other games in it’s series, Big Red One is a game that is designed to really make you feel like part of a unit that must stick together to survive some seriously intense combat that keeps you interested at almost every turn.
The only really big disappointment with Big Red One is its length. There are 13 chapters in the game and a prologue at the beginning. There is no multiplayer in this version. So you’ll probably only spend a dozen hours or so on this game, which for many will definitely make it a rent.Closing Comments
<1>Call of Duty 2 Big Red One is a good attempt to bring current gen console gamers the new Call of Duty Experience with added presentation value from the Band of Brothers cast and the Military Channel. However to do this they pretty much had to scale everything down. This game looks nice, but not nearly as nice as Call of Duty 2 on the PC and Xbox360. It’s intense, but not as intense as regular Call of Duty 2. If you choose to stick with the current gen systems for a while, this game is at least a good rent. But if you have a good enough gaming PC or plan to buy an Xbox360, regular Call of Duty 2 is definitely better for you.1>8.3/
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