Call of Duty 2: Big Red One Review

I have officially lost count of the number of World War II games both in my collection and currently on store shelves. It seems that those who revere the Greatest Generation have little to no trouble dipping gamers in the same well over and over again. This by itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has grown hugely repetitive after storming the same bunkers and beachheads over and over again. By this point, just about every gamer the world over has wiped out the German population so many times it’s ridiculous.

What’s even more ridiculous is that Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, the sequel to one of the worst games of last year, Call of Duty: Finest Hour, actually turns out to be both fantastically entertaining and refreshing. The fact that it accomplishes so much of what the 2004 game utterly failed to do is terrific in its own right, but then you have to take into account that it’s just so much fun to play. So how did it succeed where the other game failed, you might ask?

Follow me and we shall go through all of the gory details, posthaste.

It is unfortunate that the only real area where Call of Duty 2: Big Red One suffers is in the graphics. This isn’t because the Xbox is not a solid graphical powerhouse, but because of how easily characters get hung up on one another, and how easily they run through tanks or walls and so forth. It seems that the characters in this game have no trouble running right through a tank if it’s sitting in the path they are moving along. I watched time and again while characters on both sides went straight through objects, or were stuck on doorframes. What is it about a doorframe that vexes video game characters so? There are countless examples of game characters sticking and piling up inside a simple doorframe, and I have yet to come across the explanation as to why. Maybe someone needs to make an entry on and tell the world why this is.

Otherwise, Big Red One has solid overall graphics, and terrific details. It also helps that the game is well lit, even when assaulting a beach at 0300 hours. This helps gamers see where they are going, and helps them know where to shoot when they find themselves under enemy fire. The cool thing about the environments are they appear to be accurately modeled after the real thing. It immerses the player in the hot and dusty sands of Africa, the ancient ruins and beaches of Sicily, and so forth. Everything keeps the ambiance so thick it borders on choking, and frankly it is terrific.

The benefits that the detailed smoke brings to the Call of Duty series are immeasurable. When one of your men blows open a door, smoke covers the entry way as it would in real life. For gamers accustomed to kicking down doors and rushing in with guns blazing, this new element will change your strategy in a heartbeat. Neither you nor the enemy can see one another through smoke, whether it’s from an explosion or a smoke grenade, and it forces you to alter your tactics on the fly. This is nothing short of exhilarating, and hearty congratulations to Treyarch for bringing this to consoles.

Another thing that is terrifically done is the level of details to the explosions and body movements. Squads on both sides will flank the other and duck behind cover, as well as stand up just long enough to squeeze a few shots at their opponent. Gunfights are fast and furious, especially some missions where enemy armor is either approaching or chasing you all while swarms of enemy soldiers charge at you as well. But the truly spectacular events are when you take to the skies as part of a bomber crew. Shooting down enemy planes by itself sounds great, but when the enemy planes split in half, or roll into a fireball that explodes overhead, it goes from fun to glorious.

The Call of Duty series has quickly established itself as the gold standard for audio design, and Big Red One continues that tradition in fine style. Gamers with a full surround sound system will no doubt bring the neighbors running when they crank this game up to an 11. By definition, a war game must be played as loud as possible whenever possible, just as a lot of Saving Private Ryan’s fury comes from hearing bullets zinging by your own head. Playing Big Red One with the sound turned down defeats the purpose, as you will miss how bullets and ricochets fly past and how deafening explosions will ring your ears. Every piece of artillery, be it mounted on a Panzer or fired from an offshore ship’s battery, sounds unique enough that you can usually tell who fired what. The same goes for the different weapons. For example, it felt odd to notice how the French MAS 38 sounded so different than my M1 Garand when I came under the fire of one.

The music by Graeme Revell is terrific, and flows perfectly like his scores from Band of Brothers did. Players will find themselves elevated by orchestral pieces that soar, and evoke both a respect and sadness for the events of the war. The music never felt recycled, though certain pieces do make repeat appearances here and there. The overall effect is one of a unified theme, as if Revell managed to tie the different missions together into a strong message of hope and friendship. Kudos to Revell for his efforts, because the score is so top-notch that I brought out my Band of Brothers discs for additional inspiration.

You aren’t given much in the way of a tutorial in Big Red One, so your best bet for picking up the controls is to check out the instruction manual. While I understand such a statement is heresy among gamers, and I no doubt will take flak for, I learned more from reading the manual than I would have from picking it up on the fly. Big Red One has a very unforgiving nature as it constantly bombards players with assault after assault, so you are better off going into combat with foreknowledge of which buttons do what. These are easy to remember in the heat of a firefight, which is always a sign that they were well laid out.

The thumbsticks have the standard configuration with the left one for movement and the right one controlling the camera. The Y button is for jumping and standing up after crouching, which is accomplished with the B button. Hit that once to crouch down and then a second time to lie on the ground. The A button is for a melee attack, and the X button is for tossing grenades. The black button is the all-purpose button because this plants explosive charges, picks up objects, and activates and uses other objects. The white button is reserved for reloading weapons. The left trigger zooms in with a sniper rifle and looks down the sight of other weapons, and the right trigger fires your weapons.

Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is a heck of a lot of fun, but like the other games in the series it is a giant rail shooter. There is never a question of where you are going, and the pace is so lightning fast that you barely have time to breathe. It’s an exhilarating feeling, and worthy of the Call of Duty brand name, but if you actually like to explore then this is not the game for you. It is, however, hugely entertaining as you repel wave after wave of enemies who are not just limited to the Germans. You actually get to fight different subsets of the Axis powers, and this actually is a novel idea. For all the recognition given to the Germans and Japanese, there were other nations allied with the Axis Powers, and this is the first game, to my recollection, where you actually go toe-to-toe with them.

Of course, if the enemy AI were better or at least different, then the overall experience might be truly a cut above the rest. As it stands, each mission provides its own difficulty based on how best the environment is approached. Frequently, your squad will hang back until you clear out a certain point, then they will join you in the assault. But if there are a few Panzers blocking your way, then it might be more beneficial to see if there is a way around them.

There are also plenty of missions where attacking or defending an entrenched position is the primary goal. Wave after wave of enemies will charge your position and only after you have eliminated enough of them will you be able to move on. Holding and defending positions are a large part of the game, and Treyarch was creative enough to keep the situations varied. For example, you have to defend a position early on from encroaching Algerians, and as a German Tiger tank gets closer and closer to your position, you realize that it looks like it will soon drive right over you. But you have to man that machinegun nest, and the tension exponentially ratchets up as the tank slowly but surely closes the distance. Later on, you have to defend an entrenched position from over half a dozen enemy tanks by running from one position to the next and blasting the armor with a bazooka. Oh, and the enemy tank crews are pretty accurate.

All of which adds up to one fun console war game. Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is solidly entertaining for its short running time, which is one of a few grievances I have with the game. I understand that these games are all short, but this can be completed in a weekend. I wish all of the Call of Duty games were longer than they are, but that guarantees my purchase of any and all future expansion packs.

Considering how much fun Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is, there is a lot of replay value to be found here. Every completed mission unlocks bonus material, which is primarily concept art and trailers. Each character also has their individual history spelled out, which is a very nice touch. The main reason to play through again and again is the excitement from every mission. This is not some half-witted attempt at a combat game, but rather a truly fun and immersive WWII title that takes its rightful place in the Call of Duty series. For people who do not have the highest end video card for their PC, they are well advised to check out Call of Duty 2: Big Red One for their Xbox because it has just about everything the PC version has with one major benefit – consistency. The consistency of the story telling along with the consistent quality of the missions means that gamers will have a lot of fun playing this one. It winds up being a glorified rail shooter, but it remains a fun one nonetheless.

Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is so much fun and so well made that it completely obliterates the insultingly awful Call of Duty: Finest Hour. This is the game that war gamers have wanted on a console, and it delivers the thrills and entertainment in ways I did not think possible. Regardless of the graphical hiccups and outright stupid AI, this game provides a roaring fun time, and it should absolutely be checked out. Everything that the Call of Duty series does right is well represented, and this game takes things a step further by keeping the focus on one group instead of three separate ones. As a result, the player will remain immersed start to finish and fighting alongside your fellow foot soldiers has not felt this good, or fun, in a long time.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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