I’ll start this review by stating that I’m a big fan of videogame developer Infinity Ward. Their breakthrough smash “Call of Duty” is one of my all-time favorite games and its sequel, “Call of Duty 2,” is right up there with it. Their latest war time foray, “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare,” took the tried-and-true formula that they’d patented with their two previous outings and incorporated a real-world plot and a bunch of new game play enhancements that makes it stand head and shoulders above its predecessors. It may just be 2007’s best shooter.
But where does that leave the black sheep of the series, “Call of Duty 3?” Developed by acclaimed developers Treyarch (who also worked on a couple of the console-only titles in the series such as “Call of Duty: Big Red One”), I didn’t expect much from a “Call of Duty” game NOT developed by the Ward. Not to mention it was a console-only title, much like “Big Red One,” though not only available for next-gen systems. But I’m a bargain hunter at heart and finding a game like “Call of Duty 3,” with its original Limited Edition bonus disc intact, for $30 was an offer I couldn’t refuse. So I took her home, unwrapped her, and popped her into my trusty 360. It was then that I was treated to an experience far unlike any other the “Call of Duty” series had yet to offer.
You see, being developed by an entirely different team means a bunch of different things for this particular entry in the series. For starters, there are four different subplots going on adjacent to the main plot – that being the Normandy Breakout you are taking part in. There are four different Allied factions that you take control of throughout the singleplayer campaign, automatically, of course; the Americans, the British, the Canadians, and the Polish. As mentioned, each of these factions has a corresponding subplot. They aren't held together by a handful of loosely related missions like previous "Call of Duty" games. As a big example, the Canadian portion of the game is about a soldier who is believed to be a coward by his superiors but, unsurprisingly, gets to prove them all wrong by the section's end.
These factions each have their own unique brand of game play mechanics also. For example, the American missions seem to favor assault, the British are “Medal of Honor” flavored, that is placing charges and infiltrating depots and factories. The Canadian missions are much like the Americans’, though noticeably lessened in scope, and the Polish finds you commandeering a tank until the conclusion of that section. Vehicles are also brought into the picture, such as driving a Brit jeep through enemy territory and, as mentioned, filling the boots of a Polish tank commander.
There are also “mini-games” of sorts that must be completed throughout the course of game play. Placing C-4 charges requires you to press the action button on the designated location, then moving the Right Stick clockwise until the charge is set, then pressing a random button (the button is reassigned each time this must be done) to arm it. There are also what I like to call “grappling mini-games” where you must fend off an attacker at close range. It is usually a surprise attack from the enemy from around a corner or darkened area. Button combinations that you must fulfill are given to you (randomly) which you can fight off your attacker with through a first-person viewpoint. I felt these sequences In particular added a great sense of cinematic immersion not seen in a “Call of Duty” game before and I would like to see them implemented again.
Although Treyarch may not be Infinity Ward, the battles are still just as intense even if they do not remain as grandiose. The sounds of warfare come through crystal clear with the complement of windows shattering, semi-destructible environments, and a nice particle system. There are ragdoll physics in the game, but they are only put to work during explosions which, consequently, send your foes, as well as your allies, sailing through the air if nearby. The predetermined death animations delivered from your primary and secondary weapons, though varied, happen far too quickly, but I was happy to see the great hit detection system from the previous “Call of Duty’s” return here.
While “Call of Duty 2” looked great for 2005, it hasn’t managed to age as well coming into the early parts of 2008. Considering “Call of Duty 3’s” age – a game released two years ago – it still manages to look fantastic. Although during nighttime sequences character models and environments can look bland, with the right lighting and shading, they become marvelously detailed. That is, perhaps, the best feature of “Call of Duty 3’s” graphics engine; its lighting capabilities. Stand in a doorway, looking towards the horizon and you’ll see haze from the sun saturate over the sides of the doorframe. Shadows react realistically to all objects on the screen, including the incredibly realistic character models. As far as these models are concerned, they are bump-mapped highly and textured tremendously well. Blades of grass are individually detailed and crumple as you walk through them. I would highly recommend playing this one with an HDTV to appreciate – even two years after its release – its full graphical capabilities.
Even with the intense, cinematic moments, the perfect graphics, and the effective use of orchestrated music, this is NOT an Infinity Ward game in one big way; the pathfinding. Many times you will encounter your fellow soldiers’ running back and forth or up and down trying to find the “hot spot” to end a mission once you are already there. Often they will stand in your line of fire or, on occasion, will get in your way as you toss a grenade. Yes, that means it WILL come bouncing back at you. There was even an instance during game play where I had to beat my comrades up a flight of stairs because, if I didn’t, they would block my path each and every time, thus meaning I couldn’t continue the mission. Movements are motion-captured well and I loved the cut scenes, but the pathfinding was some of the worst I have seen in any game to date.
Considering how amateurish the pathfinding is, you would expect half-assed AI as well. If you’re playing through the game on the easiest difficulty available, it won’t be much of a challenge until you get to the tail-end of the game. Enemies will begin tossing thousands upon thousands of grenades at you to flush you out and they suddenly become sharpshooters. But they never flank and I found myself able to pick every single one of them off. On harder difficulties, the AI presented a much greater challenge. Hardcore gamers will certainly want to go all out with the difficulty level before starting a new campaign.
“Call of Duty 3” is so close to being up there with its older brethren that it’s almost frustrating. If it wasn’t for the wonky pathfinding, this would be a 4 1/2 star game and you can take that to the bank. I can’t count how many times I was wholly immersed in the experience only to have one of my fellow Allies run around in a circle to try and trigger the cut scene hot spot. It looks horribly unprofessional, and for a “Call of Duty” sequel, it’s an unforgivable flaw. But everything else, from the atmosphere, to the intensity, to the music, is exactly as you’d like it. With the addition of the mini-games and some light vehicle action, this is probably the most different of the four main “Call of Duty” games; something of a second cousin. But that doesn’t make it any less of a necessity.