There's no doubt that Call of Duty was one of the standout shooters of 2003 thanks to its addictive blend of intense single-player action and wild multiplayer gameplay. By taking its cues from Hollywood movies and television shows such as Band of Brothers, Call of Duty manages to immerse you in a virtual cinematic experience as you fight the battles of World War II on the front lines. So it's not too hard to imagine that developer Gray Matter faced a daunting task when it was asked to make an expansion for Call of Duty, which was originally developed by Infinity Ward. However, apparently Gray Matter was more than up to the task, because the developer took everything that was great about Call of Duty and then ratcheted the gameplay's intensity even higher. The result is that Call of Duty: United Offensive is a truly great expansion.
Get ready to receive waves of Germans in the many harrowing battles of United Offensive.
United Offensive follows a similar format to that found in Call of Duty. You play as three Allied soldiers--an American paratrooper, a British SAS commando, and a Soviet infantryman--who are caught in the great struggle against Nazi Germany. Over the course of the single-player campaign, you'll go from the frozen siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge to the epic German counterattack at Kursk. Throughout most of the campaign, you'll participate in huge, heavily scripted, set-piece battles that make the squad-based battles in Call of Duty look downright minuscule in comparison.
A good case in point involves Bastogne, which represents the opening segment of the expansion. After a short joyride in an American jeep through German lines (not unlike the similar sequence found in Call of Duty), you and your fellow paratroopers have to repulse a powerful German attack on American lines. While a battle in Call of Duty usually involved Germans that came at you in manageable numbers at a time, the sheer number of opponents that the computer throws at you in United Offensive is almost overwhelming (at times). We're not just talking infantry, either, because the Germans come at you with tanks and half-tracks as well. With gunfire and tracer fire all around, you must run from foxhole to foxhole in a desperate defense of the lines. And just when you think that things can't get more intense, P-51 fighter-bombers streak in on devastating bombing runs. It's an awe-inspiring moment, to say the least.
The expansion switches gears a bit for the British portion of the campaign by starting you off as a gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress that's on a bombing mission over Germany. It's a visually stunning sequence, though you don't get to do much other than shoot down waves of incoming Luftwaffe fighters. Luckily, it's a one-time event, so you'll spend the rest of the British campaign on the ground partaking in commando missions that are probably closest in scale and scope to those found in Call of Duty. These include a Guns of Navarone-style mission where your team must destroy coastal guns that are threatening the invasion of Sicily. While packed with variety, the British segment of the campaign feels relatively low-key compared to the rest of the expansion, mainly because it lacks the massive set-piece battles that are at the heart of the American and Soviet segments of the campaign.
Thankfully, the gameplay returns to over-the-top form with the Soviet portion of the campaign, where you and your Soviet comrades face Hitler's last major offensive on the eastern front. This segment weaves from chaotic trench warfare to house-to-house--and even room-to-room--combat as you attempt to clear the Germans from a broken and burned-out city. It culminates in a climactic battle for a rail yard that pits you against oncoming German infantry and tanks, with Stuka dive-bombers making strafing runs over your positions. It definitely makes for a harrowing experience.
During the British missions, you can fly as a gunner on board a B-17 over Germany, where the Luftwaffe swarms all over you like flies.
About the only complaint about the single-player campaign is that it's not that long. The fast pace of the action works against the game, because there's somewhere between six and 10 hours of total gameplay, depending on how proficiently you're able to get past the tough parts, of which there are many. On the medium difficulty level, you can generally get past most battles and encounters after one or two attempts, but there are some notable sequences that may require a greater number of tries. The key in those situations is to recognize what the problem is and to figure out a way around it. The original Call of Duty featured its own fair share of challenging, almost puzzle-like sequences like these, so the overall level of difficulty in United Offensive is actually about the same.
You'll also get some new toys to play with, including semiautomatic rifles for the Germans and Soviets, which represent more than welcome additions. Another big addition is the machine gun, like the German MG34 and the American .30-caliber, which can deliver a heavy rate of fire but which can only be used while stationary and prone. And since Gray Matter developed Return to Castle Wolfenstein, it's not too surprising to see that it has imported the memorable flamethrower from that game to United Offensive.