Tuesday 27 December 2011

Call of Duty 3

Guess what I got for Christmas.

2011 is almost up, and provided the world doesn't end half way through it, 2012 will be the year of Squirrel's great video game catch-up, where I'll be sitting down to review the games I should have played half a decade ago. Because that's the sort of zany bloke I am.

To start, Call of Duty 3. Nope, not modern warfare 3 - a long way to go before I get to that - just 3. A game from simpler times from Treyarch and Activision.

Call of Duty is a series I've blissfully ignored for the last decade. When the original game first arrived in 2003 for Windows PCs, it was a moderate success amongst fans of mice and keyboards, less so for those who liked their thumbsticks and buttons. When a sequel was produced, it got a similar reaction from the gaming public - Xbox 360 fans were happy, but the rest were fine driving into hookers in San Andreas. I was in the latter camp, and I kept the sex trade at bay.

Things changed with Call of Duty 3. For one, it avoided the computers altogether, instead being chucked onto every major video game console of 2006, including two generations of Xboxes, two generations of PlayStations and was a launch title for the Wii and PS3. This one was a lot harder to miss, and hence why several million copies were shipped and sold. It paved the way for Call of Duty 4 to break sales records in the following year, and now an entry in the series is a requirement for owning a seventh generation console.

I've played a tiny bit of the first and fourth CoD, but until quite recently, never the third. My theory had always been that the big fans of Call of Duty only labelled themselves as such because they hadn't played anything else, and that they only believed it was fantastic because Activision's marketing department said so. It didn't strike me as healthy to enjoy this series and I suspected better games lay elsewhere. Namely in EA's camp with the Battlefield series.

But I'm willing to change my mind about this one. Sure, Call of Duty 3 is by no means a revolutionary release, but I can understand where the series gets its fans from now. Rather than making up absurd, fictitious plots about terrorists and American freedom, CoD3 is set in a real World War, in which you shoot Germans for a living and fight to establish the unversial declaration of human rights. Unlike later games the player has literally been called for duty in CoD3 - they've not chosen it as a career like you would for modern warfare. I like it when titles make sense and causes are just.

For those who love the concept of a gritty, realistic shooter, spare a thought for Call of Duty 3. It's recently been celebrating its fifth birthday, but the sands of time have not been kind to its once "groundbreaking", "realistic" visuals. Perhaps it's the result of being a fairly early Xbox 360 game, or a side effect of having siblings on the PlayStation 2 and Wii. Perhaps nobody at Treyarch knew what they were doing, since previous CoD games were handled by Infinity Ward, but the net result is a game that doesn't look too well these days.

CoD3 has the player complete a variety of World War II-inspired missions for various allied factions. For the most part, it centres on the Americans shooting at Germans. Sprinkled in are missions regarding an Englishman, a Scotsman and a... set of French people, slowly liberating France (at one point house by house) and achieving basically nothing. Whereas I agree that it's a good idea to spread the load across different nations, I can't help but feel the Brits drew the short straw in this one.

We then cut to the Canadians, who also don't seem to have a role in life, and finally, the Polish, who despite being overrun by Germany in 1939, are the only allies in Call of Duty 3 with a tank division, and are therefore the best characters in the game (even if you only see them a couple of times). Throughout the campaign you never leave France, you never shoot Hitler and there's absolutely no mention of the Soviets, who ironically did quite a lot of the "liberation" bit (maybe not in 1944 mind you, but still).

In fact, the whole Nazi Jew-slaughtering regime of war-time Germany seems to be mysteriously absent from Call of Duty 3, perhaps to get around censors. Treyarch have quite brilliantly taken the main reason for going to go war out of the equation, replacing it with the simple task of "SAVE THE FRENCH". It means you never see the war end, you just make some non-existent civillians a bit happier.

CoD3 also attempts to introduce squad members with backstories, but as they lack any sort of character development it's difficult to care when they get killed. And because it's a war, a bullet in the chest is all they're destined to achieve. After several hours of playtime the only person I got to know was "Sergeant Dixon", mostly because the rest of his crew spend a good chunk of the game shouting "DICKS" at him. And yes, he dies in the end too. Oh well.

One of the others to go is the only female character you'll ever see in game, so if you were expecting a break from testosterone-fueld fun you'll be disappointed. Though if I'm honest, I'd have assisted the Germans in slaughtering the rest of the cast if it meant they wouldn't clog up doorways and shout at me - all of these people are forgettable and it's best you pretend they don't exist.

CoD3 is quite good at the national stereotypes and giving America the most credit, but it could have been worse - there could have been more plot devices like  the two British jeeps called "Vera" and "Lynn". Sure it has a jaded view on events, but if, as a World War II game, it's too scared to use Nazis, it's probably not one to be taken too seriously. Even though it's taken a dislike against the German people, it's happy to censor out Hermann Göring to keep the German ratings board happy. The only thing that bothers me is its final words, in which the game claims to be devoted to those who took part in the real thing. I'm uncomfortable with that for some reason.

Call of Duty 3, like its predecessors, seems to be prototyping the idea of squad-based combat. You're always in a team of four or five, and you spend the entirety of the campaign following others around. Your squad members have names, and are therefore the only people in the game you can identify as being on your side - everyone else is spawned by the computer, usually running into the heart of the battlefield and being gunned down. You can even shoot your own side without repercussions... unless the person has a name of course!

And shooting your own side is a common occurrence, as this is 1944 and everyone dresses the same. The Germans, have different hats and their entire army is comprised of two different character models, but even after putting bullets through several hundred of them it's still a challenge working out which side a person is on. Furthermore, both sides use the same tactic of running into the open and firing aimlessly, so I'm not sure I want either to come out of this as the victor.

Generally the game plays very well - it just suffers from some poor collision detection here and there, most of which likely arose from a lack of testing. CoD3 was built in just eight months and it certainly shows, but with this point considered, the developers did a fairly good job at keeping things up to spec. I imagine many nights were camped out in the office, but I can't help but feel that if the game was given longer development period, some of these blatant flaws might have been ironed out.

Because yes, sometimes you get stuck in geometry and sometimes the AI gets confused. Bodies sometimes float above the floor, shots are sometimes fired through scenery. Most missions pan out the same (i.e. shoot everything that moves), and the interesting driving segments are few and far between, but many hours can be enjoyed in the single player campaign with potentially many more in multiplayer. It's not a terrible game, it just feels as if it's missing a couple of levels, including a proper ending.

Even the audio quality isn't that bad in this one. You're unlikely to want to buy the soundtrack, but the music is orchestrated and fits the mood quite nicely. The tedious part of CoD3 are the team members, who spend their days pointing out everything that happens, from "TURN LEFT" to "GERMANS, FROM THE EAST", in case you can't use your eyes. The Americans seem especially surprised that they're fighting the Third Reich in World War II, although to the AI, "fight" seems to mean "crouch and fire vaguely in the direction of targets as the player does all the work".

There's also far too much use of the word "Jerry". I don't know my history that well, but I'm fairly sure this was a phrase of the British upper class in World War II, not the Polish ground infantry.

The player (predictably) leads the way throughout the experience, which I suppose is to be expected, but in this setting you're never designated with the role of squad leader. You're always getting your instructions from one of these goons (all of whom are invincible so could in theory beat the game for you) and in many cases they seem like a burden than anything else. The message from them seems to be "beat the game for us", which seems like a colossal waste of a voice actor's time.

Often I thought the game could vary itself up a bit by sending me on solo missions, but I suppose it's trying to be historically accurate and realistic. You can't send one man out against the entire German army! Now, duck behind that chest high wall and recover from all that machine gun fire you took to the face.

Arm yourself with a machine gun, alternatively a sniper rifle (which for once comes equipped with boatloads of ammunition) and you're set to take on most tasks. There are never any surprises - Hitler doesn't start creating mutants a la Wolfenstein, and aside from a few triggered explosions here and there, it's easy to guess what's coming. It's a bit of a breeze on the normal difficulty setting - most of my deaths were caused by the AI blocking my cover spots and there are plenty of checkpoints. You might want to tweak a few options before playing.

There are definitely issues with the graphics, but interestingly this game never resorts to half-baked brown or blue filters to convey a failed attempt at realism. You shoot German tanks in broad daylight, and had I not been looking out for it I can't say I would have noticed. The only thing stopping the game from looking realistic is the fact it was built in 2006, and the technology has aged poorly. Fancy renderers would not have solved that issue.

That being said, some of the assets appear to be recycled from Call of Duty 2, so there's a very good chance much of Treyarch's work was already done for them.

All in all, Call of Duty 3 is a pretty good game, and probably worth its budget price. It suffers thanks to its short development time, and even though it comes in a lime green Xbox 360 case it often looks and feels like a game from the previous generation. Nevertheless it delivers a competent experience, and I think the 360 (or PS3) version at least is worth a look, even if it's not quite as jaw-dropping as is was half a decade ago.


  1. What an awesome game this is been. I really impressed with this whole presentation of the game. Graphics and clarity is superb. Great job COD.

  2. only this game i am playing in server
    my fav game