Trying to be an offshoot in the Call of Duty franchise must be a very daunting prospect. For one, it’s a series that has very definite game conventions. It approaches the war from three different sides – British, American and Russian. It highlights specific soldiers throughout each campaign, grunts that aren’t necessarily high ranking in their respective armies but often have pivotal roles in different conflicts. It also features some of the most intelligent enemies ever seen in a war game. The latest title in the Call of Duty franchise abandons parts of these “standards,” focusing instead upon the highly decorated 1st infantry division. Get ready to enlist with Activision’s Call of Duty: Big Red One.
The Big Red One, which refers to the division’s insignia patch, was often recognized as one of the toughest and most capable divisions in World War II. It also happened to be one of the most traveled divisions, seeing combat in North Africa, Italy, Omaha Beach and Germany. Big Red One follows the historical movements of the division by placing you as a nameless private in one of its squads as you’ll go destroying airfields, escorting medics and other mission tasks. One of the things that you’ll discover as you move along is that you’ll be pulling a lot more turret duty in this title than in other Call of Duty titles – almost every single mission will task you with jumping behind a mounted gun on a vehicle, deploying a heavy machine gun with a tripod or hop behind a gun emplacement. Similarly, you’ll find yourself calling in artillery strikes with binoculars, driving tanks and handling a lot of other protective combat from the back of tanks.
You’ll be introduced to your fellow squadmates, many of whom are broad strokes of the kind of soldiers you’d see in other war stories like “Band of Brothers.” That includes everything from the hardened Sergeant to the joker who doesn’t take anything seriously, even in the midst of a firefight. Oftentimes, you’ll find yourself being specifically directed to aid a named character that you’ve been fighting alongside for the entire mission. This actually fits into the multiple objectives that you’ll be directed to accomplish through each mission, which seems to be much more than its PC counterparts. You’ll often find that you’ll be tasked with doing up to 20 or more tasks during a mission, and you’ll wind up completing a number of them simply by repelling mild attacks or progressing to certain areas on the map, which perhaps harkens to a different focus on in-game action.
However, if you’ve noticed that I’ve been rather general on some of the tasks or even parts of the plot, you’re not too far off. Although you’re provided with nicely cut scenes courtesy of the Military Channel, you really don’t get a sense of narrative or even purpose with each mission that you embark upon. It’s kind of strange to actually go through each mission without having an idea that what you’re doing has made a significant difference upon the war at all, but somehow Big Red One manages to do this with its liberal scattering of mission objectives. In fact, while the gameplay is somewhat linear in how it directs you around every single map, you often wonder why exactly you’re fighting so hard for the next few pieces of ground. What’s more, once you get a sense of what is happening, the single player campaign is over with – experienced FPS players will be able to fly through this game in less than ten hours.
Similarly, there are a number of quirks that pop up here and there that complicate the strength of the game. First of all, you’ll find that the balance of firearms is strangely off. Anyone who’s ever fired an automatic weapon can tell you that the accuracy of these guns when you’re putting out a high rate of fire isn’t great thanks to the recoil it produces. For some reason, whether it’s a BAR or a sniper rifle, each gun has an uncanny accuracy whenever you look down the sight. Not only does it not make any sense, it doesn’t wind up creating any parity when you’re using your weapons or any of the ones that you’ll be scavenging because of the lack of ammunition.
You’ll also find that your enemy isn’t as aggressive or as intelligent as previous Call of Duty titles. There are way too many times where enemies will simply stand around even when you’re firing bullets at them, pausing more than three seconds or so before responding to incoming attacks. You’ll also discover that not only will your enemies have horrible aim at times, but so will your compatriots, leading to many exchanges of fire where neither one will hit each other. It’s pretty ridiculous to watch them unload two clips at their enemies without hitting anything. Finally, while you’ll run into a few pockets of opponents that will charge you, for the most part the enemies won’t fight as fiercely as the PC titles, meaning you’ll be forcing them to react to you all the time instead of the other way around.
This isn’t necessarily handled any better with the multiplayer, which only takes about sixteen players through the standard multiplayer matches of Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Domination (or holding onto different access points on a map). There isn’t split-screen support for any one of the 12 or so maps that you’ll fight across, so it makes it nigh impossible for Gamecube players to enjoy, and even when you’ve gotten online within the Xbox or the PS2 versions, you’ll still be fighting your way through some hellacious lag that will pop up here and there to infuriate you and your fellow players. What’s more, there’s no stat tracking or other facets of multiplayer that many players have come to expect from most titles that offer this mode, so it comes across more as an afterthought than a fully fledged game option.
The visuals of Big Red One do wind up standing out in a couple of ways, primarily in the manner of explosions. From tanks that explode from shells to planes that collapse due to anti-aircraft fire and even grenades launched at soldiers, the rendering of explosions is excellent across the board. Extending from this is the attention paid to smoke particles, which seems to have been slightly borrowed from Call of Duty 2 and works very well. While the character models aren’t anything amazing, they do a number of animations that seem rather appropriate, including jumping for cover during massive explosions. You’ll also have quite a lot of in-game cutscenes, which features a decent voice acting job by the actors, a number of whom are from HBO’s acclaimed WWII series “Band of Brothers.” Most of the other effects, ranging from the musical score to the sounds of battle, seem stripped directly from the PC title itself, which is a nice addition to the game.
Overall, you might want to give Big Red One a rental unless you’re a serious WWII fan. While the gameplay is adequate and the concept behind the title is a solid one, the brevity of the single player campaign and the drab multiplayer, along with some quirky features makes Big Red One a game to check out first before you buy it.