Though Call of Duty 2: Big Red One shares its name with another game released on the PC--and soon to be released on the Xbox 360--you shouldn't confuse the two. Big Red One for the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube is an entirely different game from the PC and Xbox 360 versions. While it's a definite improvement on Activision's last Call of Duty game for consoles, Big Red One still doesn't do quite enough to distinguish itself from numerous other World War II first-person shooters.
No, it's not a brand of chewing gum. Big Red One is the US Army's 1st Division.
The subtitle, Big Red One, refers to the United States' Army's 1st Infantry Division, whose exploits are chronicled in the game's 13-mission campaign. The unit became known as one of America's fiercest and most courageous fighting units in World War II, serving tours of duty in North Africa, sweeping up through Italy, landing on Normandy, and pushing across the European continent into Germany. Big Red One's campaign follows this chronological path, putting you in the shoes of a fresh-faced private in Fox company. Over the course of the campaign, you'll participate in a number of different missions, such as capturing airfields, clearing out villages, and assisting other units in battle.
The game mixes things up a lot, having you at various times driving tanks, manning the mounted guns of marine landing craft, shooting down aircraft from antiaircraft guns, and even operating the turret guns and bomb bay doors of a B-24 Liberator. You'll also use binoculars to help spot for artillery or navy ships so you can rain the hurt down on tanks and other hard targets. Yes, the pathways are linear and scripted, as in all the other Call of Duty games, but the variation in the mission types helps keep the game fresh and interesting, instead of just having you on foot shooting guys with a rifle the whole time. The fun doesn't last long, however, as most people should be able to blow through the campaign in seven or eight hours.
Despite the brevity of the single-player campaign, Big Red One seems to have all the elements of a great shooter. It's got varied mission types that take you across several different settings, from the deserts of North Africa, to house-to-house fighting in the deep snows of Germany in early 1945. You'll use weapons from a wide variety of different national arsenals--including American, of course, German, Italian, and even French ones (as you fight against Vichy France's forces in North Africa). The game even manages to remind you of the grander scale of the war from time to time, as you'll see numerous other craft making the marine landings with you at Sicily and Normandy, in addition to dogfighting aircraft in the sky and other infantry running about. Where Big Red One seems to let you down is just in the basic nuts and bolts of the feel and interface. For one thing, the weapon handling just seems off. It's possible, for example, to snipe from long distance with submachine guns, as the first bullet is always dead-on. If not for the fact that rifles have slightly more power, there would really be no reason to use them because of how abnormally accurate the submachine guns are. More importantly, though, is that the game just seems to lack the visceral intensity that made Call of Duty so popular on the PC.
You don't just get to shoot Germans this time, as French and Italians find the business end of your gun as well.
A lot of that could stem from the fact that the sound effects in Big Red One aren't all that special. You don't get a real sense of power from any of the handheld weapons you fire, whether it's a BAR assault rifle, a Thompson, or even an MP44 Sturmgewehr that you pick up off a German soldier later in the game. Aside from mounted machine guns or tank cannons, none of the weapons in the game feels or sounds particularly fearsome. The enemies also act oddly feathery and light when you shoot them. Bodies don't seem to fall with any real sense of weight, which is most obvious when you hit them with a grenade or other explosive weapon. It's a very subtle thing, and it's maybe not one you'll notice if you don't play a whole lot of shooters, but the look and feel of infantry combat in Big Red One just doesn't feel all that intense.