United we frag.
Like the heartburn from my Aunt Boochie's Lasagna, those wily Nazis just won't seem to stay down despite our best military efforts and largest bottles of extra strength Tums. So with taut backs, soothed bellies and heads held high, we decided to return to the battlefield to duke it out with Call of Duty: United Offensive.
The good news is that Activision and developer Gray Matter have created a solid expansion to a great game (yes, it requires the original Call of Duty to play). The bad news is, well, there really isn't much, actually.
Call of Duty: United Offensive adds 13 new missions, 11 new multiplayer maps and 3 multiplayer game modes. Although this op is less than 10 hours long, it all coalesces into a graphically rich and exciting excuse to relieve even more digital Nazis of their fake existence.
You again play the part of three different soldiers in the British, Russian and U. S. militaries. Famous battles include the U.S. Battles of the Bulge, the invasion of Sicily from the British point of view and the lesser known Russian Battle of Kursk. While defection stays the same, the scenery and rules of engagement have changed, giving the campaigns their own feel and level of excitement.
You begin as a U.S. paratrooper dropped into the Battle of the Bulge, an epic, chaotic firefight brimming with intense action. It's like original Call of Duty hopped up on methamphetamines. The battles are huge with a staggering number of NPCs on screen. Wave after wave of enemy soldiers are thrown at you and your CPU squadmates, and the frigid forest backdrop makes for an impressive, challenging theater for war.
Provided you survive, you'll have a moment to catch your breath before taking part in a high-flying aerial battle as you assume the post of a British SAS Commando. You begin by manning one of the heavy machine guns of a British bomber. Your job is to shoot down incoming enemy planes and secure a landing point behind enemy lines. Once on land, this campaign becomes much more restrained, a fairly typical fragfest. These commando missions are naturally less chaotic due to fewer soldiers on screen, and the battles lack the scope of the game's remaining infantry incursions.
Your final Russian missions tips the scales back to grandiose by dealing out a heaping dose of excitement via trench warfare and close-quarters combat in confined areas. You'll face off against German tanks, mortar fire and a seemingly indefatigable complement of German soldiers.
Each campaign is thrilling in its own right and, like in the original Call of Duty, United Offensive's use of scripting is terrific. The first and third episodes really push the limits in terms of truly capturing the epic nature of WWII and stand out as prime examples of great game design
Unfortunately, some A.I. issues threaten to spoil the immersion. Your buddies can't be commanded, which still seems just short of necessary at times (not to mention cool). There are some curious A.I. irregularities, like weird hiccups where U.S. and German soldiers stand face to face perfectly still amid a chaotic battlefield, but these programming flaws are less noticeable when you study the enemies. They generally stay on their toes too and will find a number of ways to outflank you.
Little touches add polish to the shine. The new Sprint feature allows you to run for a short distance and really helps to get you from one spot of cover to the next. "Cooking Off" grenades is pretty handy as well. This lets you pull the pin and then hold the 'nade for a few seconds so it explodes much sooner after being thrown. Very useful.
These aren't the only new ingredients to this expansive stew, however. You'll find a few new toys to play with like the flamethrower, smoke grenades and a couple deployable heavy machine guns, which require you to fire only from a prone position. The deployable machine guns are heavy, lumbering things that take forever to reload, but when they let loose their lead, bodies fall in huge numbers for serious satisfaction.
Unfortunately, the single player portion of United Offensive isn't very long. Though the $30 price tag is very good, the 13 missions just go by too quickly. An experienced FPS-er will be done and ready for more in about 8 hours, maybe a few more if you take your time.
Luckily, the game pulls no punches in its online additions. United Offensive sports 11 new maps and 3 new online game types. The new maps are a great addition and are well-structured for intense play, but the new modes really make the strongest impression. The familiar Capture the Flag makes an appearance alongside Domination (very similar to Joint Ops and the Battlefield games).
The newest is Base Assault, in which the goal is to destroy an enemy's base. Doing so requires players to effectively disable it, then successfully infiltrate the base to plant and explode charges and seal the deal – not the easiest of tasks. It's nice to see continued support and new additions to the online front, including drivable vehicles like jeeps and tanks for military road rage. They're refreshing and extend the life of the game.
On or offline, United Offensive looks pretty damn sharp. Gray Matter has tweaked the graphics from the original game, giving this expansion added polish not found in Call of Duty, which was a well decorated soldier in its own right. United Offensive features more bump-mapping, more texture detail and many more bodies on screen than its progenitor. It's not Doom 3, but it's no slouch.
The sound completes the package. The "pang" of helmets flying from terrified heads and the haunting "ping" of empty rifle magazines ejecting return with canorous splendor. Go get some burly speakers for this one, seriously.
The look, sound and feel of Call of Duty: United Offensive ooze quality and playability. Couple that with the $30 price tag and you wind up with a strong expansion. It might be short, but that should hardly prevent you from enlisting again.