Monthly Archives: March 2006

Call of Duty 2

If you walk into any games shop and lob a pebble in a random direction not only will you be carted out by a peeved sales assistant but you’ve probably gone and hit a game based on a real world conflict: the World Wars; America’s venture into Vietnam; the rather still-too-close-for-comfort Gulf War.

I have a mixture of intrigue and distaste why so many titles are based on events where millions upon millions of people died and so I have always tended to steer clear from these titles. I have never said I wouldn’t play them, I just thought it an odd subject matter.

This being said, Call of Duty 2 is the first modern conflict game that I have played, mainly due to the completely sparse release list that characterised the Xbox’s first few months, and I think I’ve now shot enough spawning Nazis to satisfy me for life.

The game, whilst based solely during the Second World War, is actually split up between three different campaigns and sees you take control of a Russian, a Briton and an American. These campaigns are split up into roughly a dozen missions each and all see you slowly advance and push out Jerry from Russia, North Africa and France respectively.

You open in the snow covered Russia, fighting a running street battle and pushing through the shells of ruined buildings. Here you soon learn the mechanics of the game and just how unforgiving they can be. This is by no means an arcade-shooter, instead Call of Duty gives you very little resistance to damage and asks you to permanently face overwhelming odds.

There is no HUD to show you how badly hurt your soldier is, instead your screen’s edges become tinged red and you hear the bass sound of a beating heart. The more red you see and the louder the beating then worse you are hit to the point where most of the screen can be covered with an effect that causes you to look out through bloodshot eyes.

Whenever you take damage you need to either hit the floor or find some cover; if you can stay out of trouble for a short while your heart rate steadies, the tinting fades and your health is recharged.

This system operates in a similar way to King Kong and you do not find the lack of a health bar disconcerting at all. Instead you feel the urgency of your situation, should you take a bullet, and it adds to the tension – you need to find cover whilst chaos erupts around you.

At this point I must say that I played it out on the higher difficulty settings and so can say that the game can take you down in an instant. If you’re lucky you’ll receive a single shot and have time to hide in order to recover, however, if you move across open space then you learn to fear the bullets; two well placed shots can take you down instantly and reset you back to the last checkpoint.

Due to this, you learn to respect your enemy. They are not there to make up the numbers instead they are given the task of taking you down and are very adept at doing so given the chance.

You have your own AI squad to accompany you on your journey and they are extremely competent. Most of the time they do have self-preservation at mind and are also reasonable shots but when it comes to clearing out houses and strongholds they always allow you to do most of the work.

Using cover is an absolute must and happily the areas which you battle through are strewn with the debris of war. Many a time you find yourself stuck behind either a barrel or a pile of rubble facing off against the Germans down a street where you have to lean out and pick them off one at a time from behind your safe blockade. You could do this for hours but a well thought out spawning system means that you will never gain an advantage.

Should you wish to stay and take the odd Nazi out until their line is clear then you can do so, however, it will soon be replenished as more troops spawn around the corner and take the places of their fallen comrades. The thing is, this never feels unfair; the respawning encourages you to continually push on and take their position for once you do so you are pretty certain the spawns will stop and you will have a new muster point to work from.

Key to your progression are grenades which come in two flavours: smoke and fragmentation. Your frags can be replenished as you pick up ammo from fallen comrades and are mighty useful for flushing enemies out of nooks and crannies. Yet it is the limited smoke grenades that are the most useful as a carefully placed grenade will shield your movements from the other side and allow you to progress and push forward.

The rest of the weaponry can be split between pistols, which I never used, submachine guns and rifles. You can only hold two and so the machine gun and a reasonable rifle were the most trusted combination due to the constant changing between close and mid-range combat.

With the exception of the sniper rifle there was very little different between the guns in their own categories. The only factor on choice was stocking up on ammo so if your Allies’ issued gun was spent then just pick up a Nazi equivalent that you could easily find lying around, it will do just as good a job.

Occasionally you are given the chance to get in a vehicle and operate as gunner. The primary example of this is the tank based missions of the British as you try and push Rommel out of North Africa. Whilst an interesting intermission from the foot-based campaign it does not excel and is actually over relatively quickly.

The whole game seems to work from the same point of view as Halo’s principle “thirty seconds of fun over and over”. Each of CoD’s stages has you moving from point to point, taking out German positions at each of them, in order to progress and stop the wave of people attempting to shoot you.

The quality in this principle is the variety that the developers have created. There is enough variation in the structure you need to take, the areas through which you advance and what defence faces you to make each checkpoint an enjoyable challenge.

You could be taking a strategically placed street, a bunker or a house; you could be advancing by crossing no-man’s land, an orchard or a small village; you could be facing a handful of troops, a carefully placed machine gunner or a tank. The building blocks are limited but what is assembled at the end is not only a challenge (especially clearing the upstairs’ of farm houses) but something that you definitely won’t mind playing through again and again.


The Simpsons: Hit & Run

Everyone is searching for GTA-beater. And when I say “beater” I mean “clone”. The likes of True Crime, 25 to Life and numerous other city-based, gangster-driven games litter the shelves but possibly the breath of fresh air in this wave of Rockstar tributes is The Simpsons: Hit and Run.

Last time out the Duff loving father and his family shamelessly used the template of Sega’s Crazy Taxi, now, with this follow up, you still have the whole of Springfield to roam through, on foot and in car, but now you must complete a series of missions to unravel the mystery of the black vans that have recently arrived in town.

You start the game with Homer but quickly get to play as the rest of the family, along with a level as Apu. Each has their own car and, more importantly, sound bites. All are high quality and seemingly yoinked straight from the show.

The sound bites made the game for me as throughout the samples were hardly ever repeated, and we’re talking about a substantial multi-hour period here. If you were down on your luck you’d hear “I am evil Homer” chirping from you driver as he rammed his fellow townsfolk off the road twice in a row but considering the scale of the game the overall range and variety is a great achievement.

Sound is not the only area where the attention to detail is high as the game has been packed with every possible item they could gleam from the Simpsons’ world. From the shops down on the dock side to Camp Krusty, the world is full with the show’s references and even the cars have their own personal touch; you can see the police chief’s dog sleeping in the boot, every nasty inch of The Car That Homer Built and the comics in Comic Book Guy’s car.

Most of the missions you are given are squarely set behind the wheel of a car and usually fit one of several categories: follow a vehicle; destroy a vehicle; collect items dropped from a vehicle; race a vehicle or the clock. For a real change from the norm you sometime have to collect items whilst on foot.

The timed challenges and races are usually a doddle, especially when you exploit the shortcuts that are common place throughout Springfield, with the main fun and challenge being reserved for the destruction tasks. At times you will be asked to take down opponents whilst keeping your own vehicle intact – not the easiest thing when your target is an armoured security van and you’re driving Malibu Stacy’s sports car.

As limited as the task types may sound the game uses all the franchise’s characters and settings to make the most of those simple premises; you may be doing the same things over and over but the storyline changes quickly and varies who you have to deal with.

Unfortunately the differences between the variations are not great enough to make any one mission stand out and the only way the title evolves the challenge is by cutting down on time limits or forcing you to explore for short cuts to gain the upper hand.

You do have a slight distraction from the main game in the form of staged races and collecting coins to buy new cars and outfits but nothing exciting enough to tempt me into overly commit myself to doing either.

This game has torn me as I enjoyed playing it but in the end I felt disappointed with what it had to offer: the settings, the concept and the sounds are superb, however, the cars handle averagely at best, the missions are repetitive and platforming is limited and basic. If you like The Simpsons and GTA, in that order, it will be is worth a gander but prepare for something that quick and fun but lacks the overall draw of Rockstar’s masterpiece.