Call of Duty
I Ask You friends, wherein lies the soul of a game? Is it in the name that adorns its crude outer packaging? Or is it in the hands and minds of those who lovingly created it? I do believe, yea verily, that any pilgrims with us today who have suffered the slings and arrows of Star Wars: Force Commander, The Adventure Of Link or X-COM: Enforcer will have to agree it's bloody-well not the former.
Join with me then, brothers and sisters, in celebrating the divine transmigration of the soul and spirit of our friend Medal of Honor into a new earthly shell, and welcome to this world... Call of Duty. Hallelujah brother!
Yes. verily, it's true. I've been to the mountain, or to an office in LA at least, and seen the truth. The amazing new World War II shooter Call Of Duty is Medal Of Honor 2 in all but name. The theme and setting, the bullet-riddled intensity, the deeply cinematic atmosphere - the soul of MoH: AA lives on right here.
And so it should too, considering that Call Of Duty has no less than 22 of the original Allied Assault team working on it at new developer Infinity Ward, including all the original production leads. Publisher Activision has succeeded in snatching all the talent from the MoH franchise, and has created Call Of Duty in its image, the only niggling problem being that they don't own the original name. Oh well, you can't have everything.
Although, having been to the US for a special behind-the-scenes look at the new game this month, we can reveal that Call Of Duty does have everything. Everything you ever hoped for from a Medal Of Honor sequel, everything you ever wanted from a World War II action game, full stop.
Heed The Call
If the idea of a spiritual successor to Medal Of Honor doesn't get you excited, then let me just refresh your memory a little. In early 2002, Allied Assault became the first FPS in three long years to break our resolve and push Half-Life off the number one spot on our top shooters list. It wasn't just the intense Private Ryan style action and sense of atmosphere that made us love it - MoH: AA was simply one of the most polished, playable and immersive FPS experiences in years, and the multiplayer wasn't too shabby either.
Probably the most fondly remembered moment was, of course, the Normandy beach landing, which succeeded in creating one of the most desperate, shrapnel-ridden environments anyone had ever seen in a game.
And guess what. Call of Duty takes the intensity of the Normandy landing and applies it across the whole damn game (except maybe the stealth levels). In fact, one or two of the missions, such as Stalingrad for example, make Normandy look like a stroll down Brighton Pier (before the sabotage, ideally).
We re trying to recreate the gritty realism and intensity of war," agrees chief creative officer Vince Zampella. as he starts to load up the game for us. " "We're going to showcase the epic moments of WWII, while showing you that no one side or one soldier won the war on their own."
Face To Face With The Infinite
This aim is expressed nowhere more clearly than in the game's structure, which sees the action divided into four successive campaigns - one each for the US. Britain and Russia, culminating in a final joint campaign in the heart of Nazi Germany. The three campaigns also play very differently, each designed to reflect the kinds of tactics the various allies employed in real life. The British style of war tended to rely on superior intelligence and commando raids, says Vince. Small groups of soldiers, as seen in our mission to sneak on board the battleship Tirpitz, steal some documents and sink it. That's a very different objective than you'll find in the Russian campaign, where you're often just one of a wave of infantry bodies charging up a hill. Stalingrad is a great counterpoint to the Tirpitz in this way.
We have a huge variety of missions as well: we've got tank battles, vehicle missions, sniper missions, huge, epic battlefield moments with hundreds of guys on screen. We've got small-squad action, stealth missions, disguise missions... it runs the whole gamut. In this mission here, you're trying to retake the town of St Maire Eglise in Normandy. You've been dropped behind enemy lines, and you're now storming the town with a ragtag bunch of paratroopers.
At this point Vince is interrupted by a deafening hail of gunfire, explosions, frantic yelling, and the sound of planes zooming low overhead. The level has loaded, and we've just been treated to our first moment in the Call Of Duty universe.
Shock And Awe
OK. so in a way the scene is perfectly familiar. It's a first-person shooter, there's a gun swaying at the bottom of the screen, it's World War II - we've been here before. And yet somehow it's clear that things are markedly different this time. As Vince picks his way across a ravaged, cow-littered paddock, shooting furiously and lobbing grenades as he goes, he's assaulted from all sides not just by enemy troops, but by a furious sensory blitzkrieg. Massive flak batteries light the night sky with a hail of yellow fire, bullets shatter palings as terrified soldiers cower behind wooden fences, the ground shakes with percussive force - it's a bewildering onslaught.
"Call Of Duty is all about authenticity, assures Vince. Everything you see -vehicles, weapons, environments, missions - are as authentic as we could possibly make them." Not to mention what you hear, with every weapon sound in the game recorded from actual vintage weaponry. We've really tried to put you in trenches and let you experience war alongside the ordinary soldiers who really made the difference."
Certainly there's no feeling here that you are an all-powerful cigar-chomping superhero. In fact, there's more of a feeling of general panic and helplessness, just like the MoH beach landing. It almost seems like Allied Assault was testing the limits of our endurance, preparing us for this, the true attack that was to follow.
Vince pauses to look down his sights and dispatch of a couple of snipers, then adds, One of the real changes in CoD versus most other shooters is that you really are going to fear the bullets.
The Oh My God! Squad
Another key similarity with Medal Of Honor is the squad-based system. Once again, you'll be accompanied on many of your missions by a group of cohorts capable of saving your life in difficult situations (and occasionally asking you to return the favour). Again, you won't be giving orders so much as taking them, and if you're good enough, leading by example.
Grant Collier, president of Infinity Ward, explains: We wanted to take the cumbersome factor out of having a squad. If you had to direct them round all the time it would take a lot of the fun away. They basically know where to go. You can tell them to back off if you want to take over a position at a window or mounted gun, and they'll go do something else, but that's about the extent of it.
However, without doubt one of the most impressive features of the game is the newfound intelligence of the Al, advances that are going to make your squad mates in MoH:AA (or any game) look like prize gibbons. Infinity Ward's head technical man Jason West elaborates. We've got Al that, nonscripted, just of their own accord, will jump over fences, climb through windows, climb ledges, jump off heights -not just walk and fall off, actually jump off! The level designers define the geometry of the level. They'll say, this is a good strategic point, this is a good area for this,' and then the Al has to take that into consideration and decide what to do."
"The Als are doing a lot more than that, though," chips in Thaine Lyman, senior producer. They also understand things like cover points and suppressive fire, which is one of the biggest things we've built in. You'll see the Al actually make use of different cover points, high points, low points... you'll see them crouching behind a point or standing up and leaning around a corner to make use of cover. Plus they understand suppressing fire, so if somebody is shooting at them, they don't just run out stupidly in front of the bullets -they'll dodge, they'll wait for the fire to die down then jump out and shoot."
Of course this works both ways - the enemy also has a sense of self-preservation, and they understand suppression too. It may not sound like much, but believe us, one clever twist like this and all of a sudden you've got some profound gameplay changes going on.
A Bridge Too Far
Not wishing to wait, we quickly returned to the game, this time a British mission to defend Pegasus Bridge in Normandy, and put the suppression instincts to the test. I'm gonna cross this street against enemy fire," explains lead designer Zied Rieke as he inches around a building towards a dangerous looking battlezone. The enemy has the street pretty much locked down, with three well-placed troops providing a crossfire. Okay, so first I want to just spray the general area where the enemy is. That will suppress them, and they will duck down based on that and give me the chance to get across the street. So saying, Zied launches a well-placed burst and runs to a narrow alley on the other side. Incredibly, he is unscathed.
That's real warfare stuff! exclaims Jason. In normal games, you shoot a couple of shots, both zing by his head and he doesn't care. In our game, you jump out, you spray a volley and go for it. Or you might suppress, duck back and your friendlies will go across instead." It's the natural inclination too." adds Grant. If confronted with an enemy. I'd be like oh shit I'm not aiming right at them, but I'll just fire because it's going to scare them'. It's your natural thought process, but it actually works in this game."
Dam It All
The implications don't end there either. During the next mission we played through - an incursion to take out anti-aircraft guns on the Eider Dam -suppression got the better of us more than once. Each time, Zied would fire on some Germans, they'd all go down, and, thinking they were dead, we'd continue on our merry way. Of course, they were just crouching behind cover, suppressed, waiting to pop up and kill us. Those damn sneaky Nazis... This suppression stuff is really awesome." says Jason, his enthusiasm unwavering. You fire on a guy and whether he becomes suppressed or not depends on how green the guy is, or how fearless he is. You might fire above a couple of guys and some guys will just stay down there, scared."
Enemy soldiers are also fond of charging you with their rifles if you get too close for comfort. They'll simply run at you and attempt to beat you down the old-fashioned way, with cold steel and rifle butts. It scares the hell out of me. admits Zied sheepishly.
Take A Stance
Call Of Duty is also putting some interesting tactical emphasis on other, fairly standard FPS options, with the aim of forcing the player to think a little more about their actions. Take basic stances, for example. You're harder to hit when you're crouching, but you move slower, and you're even harder to hit when you're prone. Pretty standard stuff, sure, but you get a large pay-off in accuracy, which becomes a serious issue with some of the rusty old weapons at your disposal. This sort of thing means a lot in Call Of Duty," insists Jason. You're harder to hit when you lean around corners as well - the Al accuracy is calculated based on how much of your body is exposed. And when you look down the sights, it puts you into a walk mode, but you get more accurate. If you don't take advantage of these options, the game is a lot harder.
You can't just go through a level spraying bullets everywhere like Rambo, agrees Thaine. You have to behave more like a real soldier - really think about making use of cover and stances, as well as using suppressing fire so that you can get yourself around the enemy and flank them, or so one of your buddies can do it for you. It's a real departure from the standard run-and-gun shooter.
It'll Be Over By Christmas
Perhaps Call Of Duty's most impressive aspect of all, however, is not the beautiful Al routines, its unprecedented levels of combat intensity or its fantastic environments, but simply how far advanced the thing is. In full development for less than a year, the game is already around 60 per cent complete, and on track for a pre-Christmas launch. And while a lot of existing technology has been used, there's no denying the huge achievements made in that time, especially in the areas of graphics, Al and sheer stuff' on screen. With Medal Of Honor: Pacific Assault barely in production and not due until well into 2004, the MoH boys have plenty of reasons to be concerned.
Having seen a good chunk of the game in action, we think it's safe to say that CoD will up the ante for intensity in games, as well as taking the brilliantly scripted, cinematic approach to action gaming to the next level. It is the new Medal Of Honor, but ten times better. And anyone who made it up that damn beach alive has got to love that.
Before You Even Ask, Here's The Full Deal On The Technology In Call Of Duty
Call Of Duty looks stunning. The environments are huge, with a magnificently dirty, war-tom feel to them. They look even better in action, as the rubble-strewn streets and cratered fields are lit up by the fierce blazing storm of combat, with tanks rumbling across shattered ruins and buildings collapsing in billowing clouds of dust. Amazingly, all this is being achieved on a three-year-old rendering engine - or at least the barely recognisable husk of one that lies beneath a shiny new exterior.
We started off with the Quake III engine, explains Jason West, or actually with the Wolf engine which was based on the Qlll engine. Then we rewrote the Tenderer, the Al, the animation system and the scripting language - pretty much all the major systems. The same framework is there, but all the major systems have been completely rewritten.
Grant Collier Adds: In Stalingrad there are more than 100 guys on screen at any time, and without doing substantial tech changes there's no way we could have made that happen. You've got much larger environments, many more guys on screen, much more detail in everything; it's an entirely new experience, really.
The animation system also adds things like complex facial animation for the major players, limping and stumbling when characters get shot, and even a disturbing crawling animation, as badly wounded soldiers desperately drag themselves to cover. It's only the Al though, clarifies Jason. Having your own character limp when wounded was deemed annoying. Incredibly, the minimum graphics card for the game will be a GeForce 1, giving succour to all the frugal gamers out there whose wallets are trembling at the thought of all this new technology.
All Shook Up
Call Of Duty Introduces A Cool New Shell Shock Effect That Will Leave You Reeling
It's one of those perennially annoying things that we've simply learned to live with, like London tubes and England's archaic licensing laws. There you are, on a battlefield (a virtual one), lobbing a grenade at a gaggle of enemies... It's not a bad toss, and the thing goes off in the middle of them, not quite close enough to kill, but certainly doing some damage. You run in to finish them off, but they've bounded to their feet and sniped you between the eyes with the alertness of a terrier on a caffeine binge. Where are the bleeding ears, vision loss, the serious concussions, the pounding headaches?
Well, irritable gamers, rejoice, as Call Of Duty is set to introduce a brilliant shell shock effect that's sure to become genrestandard by the year's end. Survive any near misses from mortars, grenades, etc and you'll suffer from temporary shell shock, which is something like being hungover and underwater all at once.
We were trying to get that hazy, distant feeling, explains Infinity Ward's Vince Zampella, so your audio goes down a bit, your vision kind of blurs, your movement slows a little bit." It's extremely disorienting, but also very cool.
As this feature is designed to affect you more so than your Al opponents, it doesn't yet address the problem of enemies being inexplicably immune to shock effects, but it's still loads of fun.
Processor: PC compatible,
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode