Call of Duty

I finished the single-player campaign in Call Of Duty today. (Well, technically, yesterday, since it’s just after midnight when I’m posting this.) Having made my way through the whole thing, I can say without reservation that this is probably the best WW2 action game ever made.

Call of Duty is made by the same people who made Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, and it shows. A lot of the gameplay mechanics are the same, and the “feel” of the two games is similar. However, Call of Duty improves on Medal of Honor in a lot of ways, fixing just about everything that was annoying about the earlier title. The biggest change is the shift from Medal of Honor’s Rambo-style world, in which you could blast through whole levels without ever seeing another Allied soldier, to a more collaborative world where you work as part of an AI-driven team. This makes the ensuing battles feel much, much more real than Medal of Honor’s ever did.

But the best part of Call of Duty — the thing that makes it truly amazing — is its Russian campaign. The single-player game is split into three campaigns: an American campaign where you play a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne at Normandy, a British campaign where you join the 6th Airborne in the defense of Pegasus Bridge, and a Russian campaign that drops you into the hell of Stalingrad. The first two campaigns are well executed (though the British one is a little short), but the Russian one is amazing. The developers borrow heavily from the movie Enemy at the Gates for atmospherics (in much the same way as their D-Day landing scene in Medal of Honor felt like it dropped you into Saving Private Ryan), but it’s still chilling to be dropped right into the middle of the carnage as wave after wave of Russian conscripts charge the German positions, with half of them carrying rifles and the other half carrying only a spare cartridge and being told to pick up a rifle when the man in front of them falls. For whatever reason, Americans don’t seem to have a good understanding of the scope of the sacrifice the Russians made to win World War II — a sacrifice orders of magnitude greater than ours was — so if this stuff was compelling for me, I imagine it would be even more so for someone who had no idea what Stalingrad was like.

Anyway, Call of Duty sets the new standard for first-person shooters. If you have any interest in this sort of thing at all, it’s a must-play.



December 29, 2003
9:32 am

Hmmm…the Poles just wish their sacrifices were all their own. Say, the half of Poland they invaded? I wish people would remember that this was another bloody dictatorship that compromised its alleged principles so severely that they did a deal to carve up Europe with the dirty rotten fascists.
I seriously also wonder how their experience would have been had Stalin not been the wartime “own goal” champion. I’d have to check, but it’s even money that he killed more high-ranking officers than the Germans did, especially if you include their unprovoked invasion of Finland.
Not to take too much away from the Russian conscripts’ heroism, but there’s something in the Russian character which keeps turning them to strong men such as Stalin and defending them even to today. That behavior mitigates my feelings of sympathy for the noble sacrifice.

Jason Lefkowitz

December 29, 2003
9:42 am

I never meant to imply that Stalin was anything other than a tyrant and a brutal murderer. And certainly I have sympathy for the plight of Poland under Soviet occupation (as an American of Polish descent myself).
But I have always felt that it was possible to decouple the brutality of the regime from the life of the average citizen — and in many ways, having to suffer under the torture of living in such a regime makes the average Russian’s experience that much more tragic. Unlike almost any other combatants, they were truly in mortal danger both from the enemy and from their own government, which threatened to kill them if they showed signs of “cowardice” (and which they knew would do it, after the purges of the 30s).
To its credit, “Call of Duty” portrays this side of the Russian experience too — one level forces you to charge across a Stalingrad plaza with KGB machine-gunners behind you, not to provide covering fire, but to mow you down if you try to retreat. It’s a vivid illustration of just how much value Stalin’s regime put on the life of the average Russian.