More than a year ago, the original Call of Duty released to critical acclaim and major financial success, and PC gamers flocked to yet another WWII-themed first-person shooter. Not one to sit on their thumbs, Activision began heeding the financial pundits’ own call to “duty” and started turning the game into a major videogame franchise. So far, they are well on their way to doing just that.
Grey Matter (known also for The Return to Castle Wolfenstein) was enlisted for the newest expansion pack, United Offensive, and they have done an excellent job. The work they have done here is great, and it won’t be surprising if it’s mentioned at year-end award shows. The only problem is getting past the fierce difficultly and mishaps of the first campaign.
Click on the screens below to see them in high-resolution.
In the first campaign, you play as an American during the Battle of the Bulge. It’s a bunch of hard and unforgiving levels that are so intense you may start biting your nails as you play. But if you stray from whatever the game wants you to do, even slightly, you’re often dead on the spot or, perhaps worse, drained of all your ammo by never-ending enemy spawns.
There are also times the game tells you to pick up certain guns. Sure enough, you see the gun clearly beneath you but soon find yourself shot to death as you frantically try to grab it with no luck. At one point in this campaign, I almost lost a mouse from a sudden clapping I gave it on the desk. In all honestly, if it wasn’t for this review, I would have stopped playing the game right there. I don’t play games to get agitated. But, now that I’ve plowed through the entire thing, I can happily say that the frustration was worth it.
My wife agrees. You see, just to make certain I wasn’t getting too old or slow in my reviewing ways, I had my wife (who, like me, is a big fan of the original Call of Duty) play through United Offensive. I sat quietly next to her as she meandered around, wondering what to do and why she was dying so much. I watched as she momentarily fell behind the soldiers she was following (who simply ran off while she was firing). I watched a far-off tank knock her out with one shot. I watched her slowly start to lose all of her ammo in spots because, like me, she didn’t realize she had to move on, or that the enemies would never stop spawning.
She’s now halfway through the game and loving every minute. I think the developers forgot that most people haven’t played Call of Duty in more than a year, so they cranked up the difficulty much more than necessary and didn’t give people enough time to get their bearings. A simple oversight, but an oversight nonetheless.
Once you get past the beginning campaign and re-acclimate yourself to the difficulty, the game really takes off. Literally. The next campaign starts you on the British side flying high in the air on a bombing run. Inside one of England’s flying fortresses, you move around from gun to gun shooting down fighters and doing various tasks as your plane is roughly assaulted by flak and gunfire. It’s a beautiful addition to the game that’s just packed full of entertainment on all sides. Something any COD fan should experience.
On the ground, you’ll follow a smaller band of soldiers as they blow up various targets around the countryside, clearing the way for the invasion of Sicily. As it was in the previous title, you have two weapons and a sidearm with which to work. New to the expansion is a .30-caliber machinegun that must be mounted before firing with the zoom button. It’s basically a moving torrent that devastates everything in its limited path. Pointing it the wrong way can be fatal, though, which adds some tactical considerations to its use.
Rail-riding segments are sprinkled throughout the game, and the vehicles that you drive are more streamlined and fun than those in the previous installment. The addition of driving the gun-mounted speedboat and blasting things is a particularly nice touch, as is the fact that most everything you shoot explodes as you’d expect it to, and the enemy vehicles have enough brains to be fun without frustrating. The only complaint here, in fact, is that there just aren’t enough of these levels in the game.
The final Russian campaign really drives home the insanity of war, with chaotic action all around and destruction everywhere you look. The difficulty steps up, too, with clever ambushes and tricky tank bomb-planting, but it never quite reaches the frustration of the first campaign. However, it could just be that by the last campaign, you’re reacquainted with the difficulty and gameplay of the COD franchise, so you don’t feel quite as lost.
As these screenshots attest, the graphics in United Offensive are good but aging. No one casts a shadow, and some more modern graphics techniques would really help bring it up to the smooth, bumpy look we’re all becoming accustomed to. The art, lighting and smooth framerate with an extra-long draw distance help you to overlook those things, though, and the game is still very pleasing visually.
Between campaigns and after the last, you’re treated to movies of your battlefield experience. These provide a nice cap to each story, and although they don’t exactly match what you did, they’re a nice climactic run-through of various moments. Once you’ve finished watching the last movie, you’re left with a warm feeling of accomplishment that’s a bit too quick for a regular game, but just right for an expansion. And when all is said and done, “just right” is all a Call of Duty fan could hope for from United Offensive.
- Gameplay: 8.5
- A great shooter whose rides and vehicle combat help it from getting too repetitive.
- Graphics: 8
- Very well-done effects and design with the given engine.
- Sound: 9
- Sound effects and music are top-notch, and headphones are highly recommend if you’re unable to crank it up.
- Replay: 7.8
- We were unable to test the 11 multiplayer maps and two online modes, so this score only reflects the single-player portion: a great ride that doesn’t look to get you back again.
- Overall: 8.7
- There are still some sticky spots, and the graphics are showing their age, but get past the first campaign, and it’s a real treat for any FPS fan.
— Robert Dusseau