The second Call of Duty sees you playing as sergeant in the 1st Infantry Division (that’s where the big red one comes from, see?), battling your way through Nazi-occupied western Europe, North Africa and Sicily (the geographical area you cover during the game suggests that either these guys were some of the best, or they weren’t very good at reading maps).
As with the first Call of Duty, the first person action has you fighting alongside AI allies, and then there’s the occasional jeep ride or tank driving level thrown in for good measure. Throughout the campaign you get to use loads of authentic American, Italian German and French weapons – these all have the piddlingly small magazines, long reload times and inaccuracy that you’d expect, but all feel great to use, thanks to some great sound.
The thing that struck me about the game was the way it quickly absorbed me, and whilst the graphics are tidy enough there’s really nothing too amazing going on to set the game apart from a dozen other Xbox FPS… apart from the amazing amount of smoke and dust this game shifts effortlessly around. A big feature of the Xbox 360 Call of Duty 2, the particle effects in this game make it look really grungy, smoky and war torn – and ram home the brutality of battle, and you wonder why other games haven’t done it this well before. Like its Xbox 360 big brother, the levels do a good job of convincing you that you have some freedom, whilst in actuality shepherding you along an extremely linear mission path.
Other things that help the immersive qualities of the game are the friendly and enemy AI. It’s generally pretty good, with only the occasional hiccup when your guys get in your way – unsurprising and maybe even realistic as the guys really do act like a squad (you’re obviously the hero and the driving force behind them though). Amusing you never have to open a single door in the game, your squad always open them (well, kick or blow them down) for you. A few notable FPS of late have had dodgy collision detections, but CoD:BRO’s is really sharp, allowing you to pick off enemies at some distance, through small gaps and windows with great accuracy – even if you can only see the top of their head or an arm sticking out. The game has non-fatal wounds too, so sometimes enemies will recover or crawl away form battle – you need to make sure they’re down for keeps. When you get damaged, sadly this Xbox version uses the old medikit way of recovering health, and not the “rest to heal” method that the 360 version has. This means that on the higher difficulty you’ll be hunting them down from time to time – not really what you want to be doing when there’s a war to be won.
There’s also a surprisingly memorable level where you play as your own brother, who happens to be a member of a Liberator bomber crew. Rather than being a groan-worthy addition, this level is an exciting and well-realized diversion, as you man the tail, belly and chin gun positions and even drop bombs on a mission designed to soften up the enemy for the Big Red One.
CoD2:BRO multiplayer utilizes DemonWare's State Engine middleware, and plays a pretty good game, as long as you don’t get any lag, which can destroy the entire experience just like that as you empty a magazine full of rounds into a guy and he just turns around and shoots you dead – something that kept happening to me during one session. But get in a room full of guys with decent connections and the expansive and well-designed maps (all obviously themed on areas from the campaign) will supply you with hours of fragging fun - it ain't no Halo 2 worrier though.
Just when I thought you’d had a gutful of WWII shooters something this good comes along – a polished and highly playable game with an engaging storyline – the only other WWII game I’ve played that’s this good is its 360 brethren, but this Big Red One (brought to you by the guys who did the Spider Man games!) actually eclipses it at times in terms of settings and level design, and shows that there’s plenty of life in the old Xbox yet. The Big Red One gets a big silver 9 out of 10.