Call of Duty 2: Big Red One
If World War II simulations are your bag, you're probably in the position to believe that if by some miracle you were thrown back to those horrible years that you'd be in quite a strong position in being able to defend yourself. After all, you've mastered the single player missions, 'owned' every established player and newbie online, so why not? Hmm, okay, back to reality and the truth that no computer generated simulation can yet, and may never come close to the horror of a World War II battle, mostly because we know we won't die while playing a computer game. With this in mind, developers are increasingly trying to outdo each other with the most spine-chillingly authentic WWII replication possible, so much so that there is an abundance of war themed games as never seen before. Enter Call of Duty 2: Big Red One which attempts to lead the pack and blow the opposition out of the water... but doesn't.
The 'Big Red One' isn't in fact an oozing, bloody wound or a particularly large zit on the face of an adolescent soldier but the nickname given to the US' first infantry division thanks to the big, red logos that branded their uniforms. An informative cut scene explains what the Big Red One were all about, detailing their reputation for extreme bravery and courageousness throughout the war. Their exploits took them on a journey from North Africa through Italy and France to witness the Normandy landings and eventually into Germany where they helped finally defeat the axis forces. Through thirteen mission-based levels the game puts you in the shoes of one of these infantry men, traveling as part of a group, an assemblage that expects a great deal of work to help them succeed in this virtual reenactment.
Your responsibilities are certainly varied. One minute you'll be filling the enemy with lead from a handheld weapon and the next you'll be thrust into the controller of an automatic weapon pivoted on the top of a moving vehicle as you pop off more foes in a unidirectional firefight. Further examples of varied play involve both picking off airborne fighters from the ground to being part of a dogfight in the skies in the cockpit of one yourself. Mission objectives are continually updated as the campaign progresses and you must quickly adapt to any new challenges that are thrown at you. Most of the confrontations that you are asked to partake in are a pleasure to experience. There's a lot of tense close counter fighting that certainly raises the heart rate and the numerous landscapes make sure you don't feel like you're just retracing your footsteps. You'll soon learn that nothing becomes more satisfying than seeing a bomber being blown to smithereens thanks to a precisely targeted missile from your aircraft, and all at the simple touch of a button.
Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, just as Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube did, shows why the arrival of the next generation of consoles might be a bit premature - even the PS2 version is impressive enough to force a couple of blinks to make sure you're playing on the correct console. Every character model is detailed and realistic with lovely dirty textures and smooth animation. In addition the explosions are well presented and really add some clout to the damage you inflict. Further still, as you'd expect from a game set in the middle of a war things can get pretty hectic and the PS2 copes well with the demands of this.
Sadly, though, the sound department can't quite match the impressiveness of the aesthetics. There are plenty of blasts, gunshots and rumbling going on around you and that all sounds, well, sound. When a tank is charging in your direction you'll certainly know because of the noise it makes, let alone the sight of the thing. However, what's rather strange is that everything coming from the weapons that you fire seems lackluster and lethargic, like you've been handed the dud gun - or spud gun, as might be more fitting because that's what taking down the enemy feels like. There's just no impact behind most of your shots, you don't end up feeling like you're in the grasp of dozens of weapons that have the capacity to kill with an instantaneous ferocity. This detracts quite notably from the immersion into the game, resulting in a feeling of detachment from the action rather than a feeling of intimate involvement.
Sadly, then, it is in the realm of realism where Big Red One falls on it's Big Red arse. Players want to feel like they're actually in a war, not like they're in their living room pressing some buttons to control a man who's pretending to be in a war - it just doesn't work that way. Compounding the lack of a feeling that you're in a genuine situation is the artificial intelligence that both your infantry and your enemy display. In a word, sometimes they are just plain 'stoopid.' This is best demonstrated in close combat situations where a couple of your teammates can be firing wildly (and missing) an enemy standing just yards away. The enemy are often the same and you wonder whether a lot of them really should have had their sight tested before they entered such a dangerous situation, let alone before they were given guns to fire.
In a genre crowded with World War simulations it's hard to recommend Big Red One despite it delivering a very solid gaming experience. There are just too many niggling faults that amalgamate into one big game-spoiling problem. Just a note on the multiplayer that is also limited, this time the lack of any additional gameplay modes or even original maps - it's just the main game's landscapes regurgitated which seems just lazy on the developer's part. If you're a Call of Duty fan then Big Red One might be worth your time if you can look past its misgivings. If however you are considering what should be your first folly into World War action, then consider looking elsewhere.