There is no shortage of World War II-themed first-person shooters available, and it's no secret that a number of them, including Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and Battlefield 1942, are extremely good. Now you can add Call of Duty to that list. The first game by Infinity Ward, a studio composed of some of the same team that worked on Allied Assault, Call of Duty presents outstanding action all around and is at least as good as, and in several ways is simply better than, any similar game. Though both its single-player and multiplayer modes will be familiar to those who've been keeping up with the WWII-themed shooters of the past several years, most anyone who plays games would more than likely be very impressed with Call of Duty's authentic presentation, well designed and often very intense single-player missions, and fast-paced, entertaining multiplayer modes.
What would it take for a WWII-themed shooter to distinguish itself in this day and age? A whole bunch of stuff that's in Call of Duty.
Call of Duty's distinguishing features, by and large, can't be considered innovations--that's too strong of a word. However, this is a game that pulls together many of the best aspects of other, similar games, and also includes all sorts of little "wish-list items" that may have crossed your mind while playing those other games. The result seems, above all, very well designed. The action in Call of Duty, ultimately, is arcadelike--much like in Allied Assault or Battlefield 1942. You can't survive a shot to the head, but you can take a few bullets anywhere else and can keep going just fine. There's also a clear onscreen indication of the direction from which you're taking fire (and, as you're getting hit, the screen shudders to make it look like it hurts). Luckily, first aid kits, conveniently placed in the levels or occasionally dropped by killed enemies, instantly restore large portions of your health. You hardly ever need to activate a "use" key in this game. When you do, you'll use it to instantly set explosives or grab documents, but you won't use it for opening doors.
Actually, that's because you won't be opening any doors. One gameplay contrivance that's presented in the first few seconds of the first mission is that any time you see a closed door in Call of Duty, it's supposed to stay closed. This seems like a minor point, but how many shooters have you played in which you fumbled for every doorknob, trying to find the one door that would actually open? That's simply not an issue in Call of Duty. Despite the highly authentic atmosphere created for the levels in the game, there tends to be an intuitive, clear path from the beginning of the level to the end. The levels can be challenging, at least at the higher two of the game's four difficulty settings, but they're not frustrating. If you die, you can restart at your most recent save almost instantly. You don't need to worry about hitting the quick-save key all the time, either, since the game automatically and seamlessly saves your progress not just at the beginning of a level but at several points throughout the level. The game's brief tutorial at the beginning of the single-player mode will be second nature for experienced players of first-person shooters. However, since it's in the context of a military boot camp, it will also provide, for new and experienced players alike, some valuable advice on (and practice with) the nuances of Call of Duty's gameplay.
Call of Duty does an excellent job of modeling American, British, Russian, and German weapons of the era. You can shoot your weapon from the hip, aim down its sights, use it as a bludgeon, or change its firing mode, in some cases.
You cannot sprint in Call of Duty, nor can you tiptoe. While standing, you move at a constant pace that's not too slow and not too fast but is just right. You'll have no trouble quickly getting from point A to point B. However, when you're running from cover to cover in an area that's under fire, you'll be painfully aware of how vulnerable you are. You should probably keep your head down, and Call of Duty lets you easily switch between standing, crouching, and prone stances. You move slower while crouching--not too slowly though--which makes this the best way to get around when in the thick of battle. Movement, as well as turning, is understandably much slower while prone. Sometimes, however, this is the perfect option for staging an ambush or staying out of harm's way. As in many shooters, you can also lean around corners in Call of Duty, which can be a real lifesaver during some of the game's deadly firefights when you need all the cover you can get.
Call of Duty features a wide arsenal of authentic American, British, Russian, and German WWII weapons, including various rifles, submachine guns, side arms, and grenades. You can carry only two larger weapons at a time (as well as a pistol and some grenades), so, typically, you'll want to have a rifle for out-in-the-open engagements and a submachine gun for tight-quarter combat. While armed with any of these, you may shoot from the hip, raise the weapon to eye level and aim down the sight (for more accuracy at the expense of movement speed), or use the butt of the weapon to try and club an enemy to death. Manually reloading your weapon tends to be faster than letting the clip run out, and some weapons let you switch firing modes, like going from full-auto to single shot (though, since you can squeeze off single rounds in full-auto mode, this isn't very useful). Your crosshairs expand when you're moving and contract when you're steady, pointing out how much more inaccurate you'll be if you try to run-and-gun. The weapons themselves are modeled very convincingly, thanks in no small part to the tactile sense you get from being able to look through their sights or use them as bludgeons, and most every one will earn your respect since, in the right situations, they can all be deadly effective.
Sniper rifle-type weapons tend to be extremely powerful in first-person shooters, and you'd think that players' inabilities to run at the equivalent of 60mph in this game would make them particularly easy targets during multiplayer matches. Call of Duty has some good solutions here as well. For one thing, when looking through the scope of a rifle, your view will be severely restricted, and your peripheral vision will be virtually eliminated. This makes the scope work properly as a means of lining up a long-ranged shot but not so useful for just scanning the horizon and spotting enemies from farther than the eye could see.
Call of Duty's single-player missions let you experience some incredible battles from the perspective of an American soldier, a British commando, and a Russian conscript, who isn't even given a gun.
Additionally, multiplayer Call of Duty features the very clever "kill cam," which lets a player who's been killed relive the last five seconds of his life from his killer's perspective. The implications of the kill cam are pretty significant: If anyone isn't playing fair in a multiplayer match, the kill cam ought to make this quite clear, and then players can vote to have the offending player kicked. When playing a deathmatch-style multiplayer mode, you can easily skip the kill-cam sequence and get back into the action, but if you're playing one of the multiplayer modes in which you can't instantly respawn, it can make for an entertaining five-second consolation prize.
Call of Duty bills itself as having three distinct single-player campaigns--one for the Americans, one for the British, and one for the Russians--but this isn't exactly the case. You do get to play a number of exciting missions from the perspectives of each of these allied forces, and each one takes place in a different part of Europe. However, you play through all of the game's missions in a linear order, and there's no clear transition from one "campaign" to the next. There's no epilogue when you finish a series of missions, so all you get is a different-looking between-mission loading screen to clue you in that you've moved on to the next chunk of the game. Overall, the single-player portion of Call of Duty is of approximately average length, meaning it should take you some 10 hours, give or take, from beginning to end. None of it is filler.
Much like Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Call of Duty really doesn't tell much of a story. You'll get to survive through some harrowing experiences and help accomplish some significant victories, but don't expect to become best friends with many of the game's characters (and don't choke back any tears when some of them get gunned down or blown up), and don't expect to get a sense of the different main characters' unique personas. All there is to distinguish the game's three main characters from one another are their names; they never speak, and the game never gives you a look at them, since you see everything from their perspectives. And, no, there aren't any mirrors lying around on the battlefield.