This is the World War II shooter to end all World War II shooters.
It’s not original, subtle or particularly innovative. It’s not out to provide the most realistic depiction of the war. It doesn’t give you a mass of clever tactical options or open battlefields where you can do things your way. It simply creates the most intense, exhilarating, sometimes terrifying and frequently exhausting experience of combat around. Even now, with my eyes blurred and unable to focus and my ears ringing from the sound of gunfire and grenades exploding, it’s still difficult to believe quite how powerful a game Call of Duty 2 is.
Of course, a lot of its success is to do with the visuals, and you are going to need a beefy system to do it justice, but this is one of those games where the game experience would be unimaginable without the graphics, and the graphics would just be eye-candy without the game experience they’re used to create. Call of Duty 2 looks good in screenshots, but to really understand it you have to see it in motion: the smoke drifting through the stunning detailed environments; the troops half-running, half-crawling from cover to cover; the way the dynamic lighting illuminates details and textures on the uniforms.
In its best moments – the icy wreckage of the Stalingrad apartment blocks, frantic skirmishes in a desert bunker – Call of Duty 2 has an almost physical feel to it. The way your vision blurs when taking bullets is probably my single, favourite visual effect of the year. And yet it’s effortlessly cinematic too. When a tank rolls over the trench you’re cowering in, or the planes come screaming overhead, you cannot help but be amazed by the sheer spectacle of it all.
It’s also the audio. Call of Duty 2 is right up there with F.E.A.R. and Half-Life 2 in the ambient atmosphere stakes, from the pounding of artillery in the background to the German propaganda broadcasts in the Stalingrad missions. Then once the bullets start flying it gives your speakers the best workout they have ever had. If the crack and whiz of passing gunfire is at least disconcerting, the rumble of oncoming tanks is the stuff small children’s nightmares are made of. Also, let’s not forget the magnificent surging score, kicking in just when things need a boost, then dropping out to let you concentrate on the action. Nor should we neglect the squad chatter. Where in most shooters, your comrades seem to add in comment just to keep things lively, here they actually say sensible things. Listen, learn, then race in and give those Nazis the thrashing they deserve.