BATTLE EUROPE! (part one): Call of Duty

Recently I’ve been watching the HBO miniseries from 2001 called Band of Brothers. It is so fantastic, inspiring, and wonderful. It presents a gritty and very realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be a soldier – the pressure, the fear, the decisions, the heartache… It’s caused me to want to recall my experiences with video games set in the second world war. I wanted to examine, with such a good example fresh in my mind, how they’ve conveyed the feeling of being a soldier and being right in the thick of it. And the first thing that came to mind was the original Call of Duty.

I remember my first time playing this. Back in 2003, with a new computer and new speaker system, the bombs going off sounded like they were in the room. I will probably never forget it. I bought the dual pack that included the United Offensive expansion. Playing through the story modes of both the original and expansion was a phenomenal experience.

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Call of Duty does a great job at putting you into a soldier’s shoes. It was, to my knowledge, the first game to give that cinematic feel in first person. It was the first to hold the player still, yet still let the player look around at all the chaos. That, was very exciting, but not more so than running from cover to cover dodging machine gun fire and mortars. Call of Duty gives the player a very heat of the moment sort of thought process – you do the first thing that comes to mind when quickly thinking how to stay alive. It’s very much an adrenaline rush and I wonder how accurately that gameplay experience represents the way real soldiers felt… What’s missing is the physical exertion and the true fear of death, but other than that, the intensity I would bet was pretty well re-created.

The game was kind of unrealistic at times, though. I didn’t care for the way certain npcs were one-hundred percent replaceable, and then some other more important ones couldn’t possibly die. The replaceable ones would keep running up against the machine gun fire and getting dropped, then a new guy would spawn and do the same thing. I guess the player isn’t suppose to just sit there watching the npcs, but I ended up doing that a lot… I also didn’t like how the other soldiers can’t possibly advance the line without your help. It’s always the player who must make the progress; that’s not fair! And I doubt there were missions like the power plant infiltration where they had just one private go in and clear out hordes of Germans. I really doubt it. But that part sure was scary. I used to have a really hard time getting the courage to go into a building alone in a first person shooter. It was always so scary to me.

What matters more than those things, though, is that Call of Duty was a revelation, and made for some truly awe-inspiring gameplay back then.

Based on my experience playing ten years ago… my rating for 2003’s Call of Duty (along with United Offensive) for PC is… 

★★★★

The follow-up, Call of Duty 2, was just as amazing, but made better by the increased ability of the engine. I remember, in that epic mission called Point Du Hoc, just staring at the other npcs… looking at the glimmers in their wet outfits… looking at the rain effects on the rocky ridge… even just looking at how the light source  affected the weapon I was holding, haha I was so fascinated by the new capabilities.

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But as for the gameplay itself, what else to say. Stellar, just like the first. Super exciting.

I always liked to pretend I was an actual soldier. I didn’t just want to run around try to kill enemies. I tried to make my character react as if he was experiencing the fear. Lol, that’s just how I had fun with the game. I always wanted to act like it was a real situation and I was really there. I still take that approach in story games to this day, because I have more fun with it that way.

My rating for 2005’s Call of Duty 2 for PC is…

★★★★

Next was Big Red One, in 2005 as well. It was the first game of the Call of Duty franchise to be released for consoles, so of course, I got it.

I don’t remember very much about this game, other than that scary mission (I think it was at the end of the story) where I had to infiltrate this dark tower and kill Germans like I was hunting vampires or something. I don’t remember really liking the game. Probably because so much of the graphic intensity wasn’t translated to consoles very well – especially to the PS2.

So from my sketchy recall, my rating for 2005’s Call of Duty: Big Red One is…

★★½

The final European Call of Duty (before they switched to the ever-popular Modern Warfare series) was Call of Duty 3. I rented this from Blockbuster (back when they were still around (sad face)) and played it and finished it in a day and half. It was a decently fun time, but nowhere near the excitement level of the first two. Plus, I remember the missions being kind of tiring. The lighting was great (I especially liked fighting in the lightning and rain)…

My rating for 2006’s Call of Duty 3 for PS3 is…

★★★

BUT I’M FORGETTING ABOUT MY ORIGINAL PURPOSE WITH THIS POST! I’m suppose to be describing how these games translated the war experience and how well they made the player feel like a real soldier. I think all of them do it pretty well, because Call of Duty’s formula is awesome. It’s cinematic and intense and makes the player very aware of the doom around them. But the first two do this better than others. There was just something pure about how those first two games felt… In the more recent games when a bomb would go off near me, I was more interested in the sound and graphics and how the game dealt with the effects of the bomb and blah blah blah… But when a bomb went off next to me in the first two… I was like, SHIT I’M GONNA DIE!

That (to put it simply) is what’s great about Call of Duty.

(or at least the Europe-themed ones)

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