Heed the call.
For the briefest of moments, I considered joining the military. What young man worth his weight in arcade tokens doesn't want to learn how kick ass and defend "America the Beautiful" from any "real" threat to liberty and democracy? The answer is: a conscious young man. Not necessarily socially and politically conscious, but conscious of the fact that bullets hurt, war is frightening and there is no way in hell I'm waking up before 8:00 am to some strange man with a funny haircut barking orders in my ear.
Luckily, as a full-grown scribe tasked with reviewing Activision's latest first-person shooter, Call of Duty, I get to reap the virtual satisfaction of squeezing a trigger without all that moral crap confusing things. It can't, because the gameplay is much too good and the whole package much too sweet.
The developing house is Infinity Ward, largely made up of the crew who brought us the exceptional Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Aside from the graphic engine and areas of engagement, Call of Duty looks and plays a lot like MOH:AA. Both take place during WWII and both are blessed with truly simple and stellar gameplay.
With very little story other than mission briefings, the game thrusts you through 24 single-player missions which include a variety of objectives, from POW rescue to white-knuckle car chases to laying the groundwork for the famous D-Day invasion. These are broken up into three distinct sections. You begin as a soldier in the British 6th Airborne Division and move on to play the role of yet another soldier in United States 101st Airborne. You'll end your body-swapping "call of duty" on the other side of the barbed wire as a member of the Russian Infantry. There are no alternate paths or a branching mission structure: you start out as a Brit and end as a Rooskie. Very simple.
But here, simple is great. You can only carry a couple guns and a few grenades. You follow your very handy compass, which constantly points you to your objective, and shoot the enemy. Nothing more, nothing less. There are no doors to unlock since they're all barred shut until an enemy or someone in your platoon opens them. You won't find any incessant puzzle-solving and item acquisition is kept to a bare minimum unless stated in your mission objective - even then your compass is there to show you the way.
Where MOH:AA occasionally gave you some NPC back-up, AI support is Call of Duty's silver bullet and makes for unmatched immersion in the simulated theater of war. Just about every mission blesses you with at least five or six other soldiers to draw enemy fire and help you on your blood-soaked journey.
Not only does this help even the overwhelming odds, but it looks so damn cool to see NPC's dragging wounded soldiers, getting brutally dismantled themselves, supplying covering fire, seeking cover and climbing atop tanks to open hatches and deliver a well-place 'nade. They really move like a highly-trained group of bad-asses.
And it's all scripted. You will never need to issue a single command, which is a double-edged sword because sometimes you wish you could tell your group to advance or give you cover fire on the fly. Nonetheless, what is there is done splendidly and truly makes you feel like you're a part of something big - especially since you can play the same level over again and see the same events now scripted differently. Way cool.
Your men aren't the only brainy ones; the enemies are on the ball, too. They flank, seek cover, fire blindly around corners, grab unmanned turrets, toss 'nades into blind areas and even toss your own grenades back at you before they go off.
Speaking of which, you will get to lay your trigger-happy mitts on more than 25 real-world weapons in accordance with the era. There are various sniper and classic rifles for distance and all manner of sub and fully automatic machine guns for the up-close warfare. The reload animations for some of these can take a while, which greatly adds to the tension.
The guns sound terrific, as does most of Call of Duty. Its excellent ambient effects help set the mood and immerse you into the action.
Another key tool to draw you into the atmosphere is the modified Quake III engine. The developers' work on this is nothing short of exemplary. The textures are crisp and highly detailed; you'll marvel at the grass. Character models are fantastic with moving eyes and lips. The level design is well thought-out and very believable, and the sheer number of soldiers on-screen produces a truly unique look and feel.
Still, I did notice a few odd animations. Friendly NPC have a very funny crouched trot and when a foe takes a dive from a rooftop or balcony the animation is very jerky and awkward. Yet overall, this is a great looking game.
And again, a very straightforward one. Some might be turned off a little by its linearity, though that's also where the game's scripting comes into play. Sometimes, linearity can be a good thing.
But like me, you'll be itching for more of the same once you complete the 10-hour single-player campaign. No worries! Call of Duty comes with an excellent multiplayer component which sits nicely as a separate shortcut on your desktop. There are 5 different modes supporting 32 players, including Team and Classic Deathmatch, Retrieval (very similar to Counter-Strike hostage rescue), Search and Destroy (basic CS bomb mission) and Behind Enemy Lines (this stacks the game with the allied forces grossly outnumbered). The action is fast-paced and frantic over large, detailed maps. Great, fun stuff that will more than likely keep you up very late.
With such simple and smart gameplay, Call of Duty rocks in all the right ways. It looks outstanding and plays well without any needed patches. The single-player is very engrossing, really the best thing since MOH:AA. Expect even more once the mod scene starts working it out. Highly recommended, soldier.