While Electronic Arts hunkers down for the next installment in the long-running Medal of Honor series, Activision has been owning the next-generation first-person shooter space with Call of Duty. Last year, Call of Duty 2 was the most popular title played via Xbox Live and became one of the first Xbox 360 games to sell a million units. It’s unsurprising that Activision would pursue a third course in the hopes of repeating its success. There’s no avoiding the fact that Call of Duty 3 brings little new to the table; however, it succeeds in how well it mixes up gameplay by means of a stunning presentation.
Call of Duty 3 essentially dishes out more of the same World War II first-person-shooter gameplay that you’ve come to expect, but it’s never been quite as varied and engaging as it is here. The hard-hitting, immersive first-person action for which the series is renowned remains intact in this third installment. Through the course of the game’s 14 missions you’ll play as American, British, Canadian and Polish soldiers who each play a role in the Normandy Breakout campaign immediately following D-Day. Subplots specific to each playable character run through several of the missions, but the focus stays on the overarching Allied campaign. Missions vary from taking out machine gun nests to clearing out bunkers with explosives to zipping through enemy encampments via a hardened truck. In spite of all this, the single-player campaign isn’t very long, but it manages to leave a lasting impression.
Like previous installments in the series, shooting wildly won’t get you through the game; instead, you’ll have to utilize cover, special weapons and context-sensitive actions to get through some of the tougher missions. The AI is challenging, but not impossible and in fact not quite as tough as it was in COD2. A few missions into the game, you’ll begin recognizing enemy patterns and adjust your tactics accordingly. Friendly intelligence is pretty good too, helping you clear the way of Nazi soldiers, and in a very nice addition, your squadmates will actually push forward, even if you don’t cross some invisible scripted line. Should your buddies be killed, though, the game still supplies you with additional support, which doesn’t really offer much incentive to watch their backs.
Given the relatively short length of the single-player campaign, you’re likely to get a lot of value out of multiplayer. Call of Duty 3 continues to offer one of the best online experiences available on a console, with balanced gameplay and a ton of options. Nine maps are available, with six different game types including battle and team battle (deathmatch), capture the flag and headquarters. Up to 24 players can join a match, which can make for some pretty exciting battles. Of course, accommodating this many players means the maps are much larger than previous games, and it’s easy to get lost in some of them, especially in matches with few players.
Multiplayer has a slight advantage on Xbox 360 thanks to more features and options, but the PlayStation 3 version still possesses the core experience. Matchmaking options and statistical tracking are simply more robust on Xbox 360. With the PlayStation 3 version, you’ll be prompted to download an update when playing online for the first time. This is an annoyance, especially considering no update is necessary when playing the Xbox 360 version.
Perhaps the only advantage given to the PlayStation 3 version over its Xbox 360 counterpart is in the controls. While the game handles just fine on Xbox 360, the capabilities of the Sixaxis make context-sensitive actions within the game incredibly entertaining. Whenever you’re caught in a close-quarters struggle with a German soldier, for example, you’ll be prompted to shake the Sixaxis in order to shove him off; with the Xbox 360 controller, you simply pull the left and right triggers quickly. The difference is small but adds a significant level of immersion.
If the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of Call of Duty 3 are night, then the next-generation versions are day. Running on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, the game is absolutely stunning. Highly detailed uniforms on soldiers (complete with patches and stitching), water that trickles realistically down ruined walls, even accurate weapons fire are just a sampling of what the game has to offer. A few minor graphical flaws can be seen in both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions, such as dead soldiers sticking to walls or clipping on random objects, but overall both games are visually outstanding. Similarly, the audio design is superb. Weapons fire is authentically recorded, the voice acting spot-on, and the musical score is a rousing orchestral tribute that heightens the action. The only disappointment is that the incredible battle chatter system from COD2 has gone MIA, which detracts from the overall feeling of “being there.”
Call of Duty 3 continues the series with an engaging single-player campaign, plenty of multiplayer options and a truly next-generation presentation. Even if it is more of the same World War II first-person action you’ve trudged through before, it doesn’t get much better than COD3. Aside from near-negligible differences between the Xbox 360 and PS3 SKUs, you can’t go wrong with either version of the game — just as long as you keep popping off Nazis.
- Overall: 8.5
- COD3 packs more impressive features than any previous installment: gorgeous graphics and audio, an intense single-player campaign and a wealth of multiplayer options. Even if it isn’t the most original WWII game, it’s certainly one of the finest.
— Tracy Erickson