Call of Duty 3 Review
Some will claim there are a few too many World War II games on the market today, and while that's probably true to some extent, many of them remain quite enjoyable and boast a remarkably high level of overall quality. One of the most critically acclaimed of these games is the Call of Duty franchise, which has given us several top-notch installments over the last several years. Enter Call of Duty 3, currently available for all platforms and already making a significant splash as a next-gen shooter. But here's the real question: is it a "must-play" in the PS3's somewhat lacking launch lineup?
The graphics are largely impressive from front to back, and the very first level is one of the most amazing environments you'll ever experience in any FPS. Very reminiscent of Medal of Honor: Frontline's Normandy introduction level in terms of unbelievable intensity, your first battle in Call of Duty 3 is visually memorable. Throughout, you'll come across great design, incredible detail, and fantastic draw distances. There are some clipping issues and a few graphical imperfections here and there, but for the most part, this game is awfully pretty. The only downside is a small drop in frame rate that wasn't evident in the 360 version; other than that, though, the two versions are mostly identical when it comes to aesthetic appeal.
One of the most crucial aspects in a game like this is the sound. We need to feel totally immersed in the hell that is infantry combat, and for that to succeed, we need the sharp rifle retort, the distinct click of the ammo clip popping out of the M1, the deep rumble of the Sherman tanks, and the earth-shattering explosions of the grenades and other air projectiles. Call of Duty 3 excels in all these areas, and even adds in a fine dose of voice-acting. The soundtrack is both varied and effective in its classical presentation, despite the tracks occasionally getting drowned out amongst a sea of effects. Everything is crisp, clean, and refined, and without any doubt, the sound presentation is one of the best you'll ever hear.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, you probably know what to expect. You've got the standard FPS controls combined with a heavy helping of atmosphere thanks to the quintessential WW II environment. But beyond that, you can expect a few other things: better-than-average enemy AI, a bit of Sixaxis motion sensitivity involvement, and vehicle access, for a start. As previously mentioned, the first level in the game is wonderfully designed and sets the stage for a continually intense experience, complete with plenty of mission objectives and a relatively generous sprinkling of checkpoints.
One of the first things you will notice, however, isn't something standard you'd expect to find in any FPS: there is no health meter to speak of. You can only tell your health status by keeping a close eye on the edge of the screen; when you get hit, you'll see flashes of red, and the more they creep in to the center, the closer you are to death (similar to the "red inner circle" you find in Gears of War). This can succeed in frustrating the player in particularly harrowing situations. On the other hand, soldiers in the field didn't have any "life bars," either, so it does assist in delivering a higher level of authenticity.
Enemy AI is thankfully quite good, as those pesky Germans will continually find ways to duck and cover, returning fire as best they can. Their movements begin to appear repetitive and predictable as time goes on, though, despite their inherent intelligence. By the third or fourth level, you'll be saying, "yeah, that's a good move, but I've seen that before." Still, the hectic nature of the battles means you're always moving, always looking for ways to advance, and rarely seeking to wipe out any visible foe. This is the single most appealing aspect of the game, primarily because it doesn't fall into the FPS trap of "destroy everything!" and maintains a solidly grounded and realistic field combat atmosphere.
There are some noticeable glitches that unfortunately must be mentioned; for example, you may get nailed by enemy fire...that's coming through a wall. Of course, only the enemy can take advantage of this little graphical eccentricity, and that makes this particular glitch all the more annoying. There is also the recurring issue of your comrades getting stuck behind - or sometimes in - obstacles, but that's usually more comical than debilitating. Overall, though, neither of these problems really take away from the experience, which is mostly enjoyable from start to finish.
You do get your typical assortment of allied and German weaponry, and you get a neat little control mechanic added to the process of using grenades. You can hold the deadly projectile a bit longer (they call it "cooking") before tossing it, thus allowing for a faster detonation without the possibility of the enemy fleeing. Of course, the longer you wait, the more risky it is, but it's a very handy trick, if you can master the timing. You'll also get the chance to pick out targets for tanks, use gun turrets, and drive a jeep around like a madman. The game really does feature a nice assortment of weaponry and gameplay changes, lending a nice flow to the player's progress.
As for special Sixaxis motion sensitivity involvement, it does exist, but it's so few and far between, it's almost arbitrary. When attacked in close combat by an enemy soldier, you'll have to quickly twist the controller from side to side to fight him off, and then finish the attack with the prompted face button. It's simple enough to do, and doesn't really add too much to the game. However, defusing bombs by rotating the controller in a certain direction and then pressing one final button is a bit more involving, even though you don't do it often.
But as has been the case for most PS3 games we've sampled so far, the online battles are where it's at. Up to 24 players can come together on one map in a super-crazy and outrageously entertaining Battle Royale of sorts, even though it'll be difficult to get anything accomplished as a lone soldier (you need those allies). The best part? You can choose between multiple games (Capture the Flag, Headquarters, team battles, etc.) and seven different soldier types. You can opt for the difficult medic position, or the slightly more mind-numbing ammo-restoration guy. There are even several vehicles to take advantage of, like jeeps and motorcycles, so every online match is filled with constant - and varied - action.
Call of Duty 3's single-player campaign clocks in at a standard 8-12 hours, which is a solid length for this type of game. There is enough depth with the added vehicles, diverse environments, and wide variety of mission objectives, and despite the repetitiveness of that AI, it's still darn effective. You've got those glitches that are a bit too significant and you might not find anything all that innovative here, but all in all, the game is an excellent FPS. There's really nothing major to complain about, and if you can't have fun with this one, you've either finally grown sick of the WWII shooter, or you're simply not a fan of the genre.
It's somewhat unfortunate that it's not the definitive "best version" out there, as the inconsistent frame rate drops it a bit behind the Xbox 360 version, but that's okay. It's not visibly inferior, either, and for the most part, nothing is lacking in the PS3 version. Both are extremely well done, and that's that.
12/1/2006 Ben Dutka