The run up to Christmas has become something of a gaming event these past few years. Why you may ask? Well it’s the one time of the year when every man and his bleedin’ dog seems to release yet another game to add to your list to Santa, it’s HUGE business. Take this year for example: Fifa 11, Fable 3, Fallout: New Vegas, Gran Turismo 5 (unless it gets pushed back AGAIN), Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood… they are all coming out in and around Christmas time.
But if there was one gaming franchise that defines this time of year, for my money it would have to be the Call of Duty series. For the past 4 or 5 years a Call of Duty game has been churned out and released, EVERY year, all in the run up to Christmas. Call of Duty 2, 3, 4, World at War and Modern Warfare 2 have ALL been so close to Christmas that I now no longer consider getting all the Christmas decorations out until that year’s Call of Duty is on the shelves.
2010 of course is no different because, in and amongst the likes of Fable 3 and Gran Turismo 5 (AGAIN… if it actually comes out), lies arguably this year’s biggest games release; Call of Duty: Black Ops. However whilst you read this, quite literally on the eve of its release (unless your reading it after the game has come out, in which case… Hi!), I thought I’d take you back in time, give you a bit of a history lesson and convince you that Call of Duty 2 is still the best game the franchise has produced so far.
I am biased of course; Call of Duty 2 was, like so many others, my first exposure to the franchise. Therefore the game holds the fondest of memories. Sure, 5 years has not been kind and the game hasn’t aged very well in terms of looks, but that’s all superficial. Look past its graphics and sometimes dodgy controls (yes, I’m talking about the melee system or as I like to call it, the FAILee system) and COD 2 possesses some qualities that, in my opinion, no other Call of Duty game has surpassed.
A singleplayer campaign in recent Call of Duty games seems to have become a mere afterthought. Players pick up the game up for its multiplayer experience rather than the singleplayer one. Sure, Call of Duty 4 has a widely acclaimed campaign due to an emotional, tear-jerking ending, but I feel even COD 4′s campaign relied too heavily on spectacular, blockbuster set pieces at times. Call of Duty 2 on the other hand, swaps out the impressive set pieces with a campaign that’s far more engaging and interesting.
The level of variation that Call of Duty 2 sports is something that I feel is lacking from more modern Call of Duty games. From crawling through pipes, infiltrating a Nazi stronghold in snowy Stalingrad, Russia to the derelict buildings of D-Day, France, the game always keeps you on your toes with different locations and different scenarios, ensuring that there’s never a dull moment, from beginning to end. Call of Duty 2 doesn’t rely on “epic” moments in order to create action, excitement and drama, and yet it’s probably the most dramatic Call of Duty game ever released. Instead, it involves a number of different countries and scenarios that realistically, could’ve happened during World War 2, to provide drama on a bigger, global scale. Whilst this is subtler than other games in the series, it’s also much more varied and much more intense overall.
COD 2 also harks back to the days when FPS’s didn’t have to rely on cheap tactics in order to be difficult. Many of the recent shooters, including the latest Call of Duty games, turn into a bit of a grenade-fest when you go up in difficulty. Call of Duty 2′s harder difficulties (including Veteran difficulty), seem fairer and perhaps a bit more intelligent than its more modern counterparts. Sure, grenades are still quite prominent, but the game’s difficulties focus far more on A.I intelligence and increases in bullet damage, meaning that when you die, you often feel like you’ve been outwitted or simply outsmarted by A.I enemies, rather than the game has cheated you by throwing an endless barrage of grenades.
But what about multiplayer? Surely more recent iterations of the Call of Duty franchise have done nothing but improve on the multiplayer formula? Well yes and no. Whilst Call of Duty 2 doesn’t pack as many features (sporting only 5 different game types), with zombie modes, killstreaks, spec ops modes, loadouts, attachments and perks all adding to the Call of Duty multiplayer experience, COD 2, to this day, is still a fun, slightly nostalgic romp.
In complete contrast to the fast paced, twitch shooter style of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, COD2 plays at a slower paced (the lack of a sprint mechanic takes some getting used to), and perhaps feels a little bit more strategic. This is mainly due to way maps have been designed and the fact that, just like in singleplayer, it takes more than one good shot to kill an enemy in Call of Duty 2. There’s plenty of cover, plenty of buildings and plenty of vantage points in EVERY map meaning you can get picked off from out of nowhere, so you have to tread quietly and carefully. But even if someone does attempt a sneak attack, it’s not all over just yet because Call of Duty 2 gives its players more HP than your average shooter these days, meaning that not only are firefights more exciting and interesting, but they also last longer, making them feel like more 50-50 exchanges. There is a certain skill to being able to control and win firefights in COD2, a skill that is different to the skills needed to do well in more recent Call of Duty games.
Call of Duty 2 pits you against players that are harder to kill and therefore the sense of enjoyment and achievement when actually shooting and killing an enemy is a lot more gratifying, and because all you have to select are set weapon classes, the game is a fair, level playing field, giving you the feeling that you’ve really earned your kills. The weapons at your disposal can seem a little off at times (one thing the more modern titles have improved upon is hit detection), but if you are willing to let that slide, there is still a lot of fun to be had.
Thankfully, even 5 years on, there is still a small but dedicated community that plays Call of Duty 2 online. Matches are rarely full and with such a minority playing, it can take a while to get into a game, but the fact that people still play this game in the light of Call of Duty 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is quite remarkable, and serves as evidence that I’m clearly not the only one that sees the brilliant qualities that COD2 inhibits.
- Kieran Roycroft