War, war, war. Everywhere you look in this magazine it's bloody war. War in Vietnam, war in the Pacific, war on terror - you'd think the whole industry was run by Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush. (It's not? - Ed.) But while most of the war-themed claptrap shoved down our gullets is that way simply because the developer lacked the imagination (or the cojones) to do anything different, there is the odd game that comes along and justifies the whole sick obsession. Shellshock: Nam '67 was one such game. No hang on, that was an awful, gratuitous piece of bum-floss. Let's try that again... Call Of Duty was one such game.
You see, the thing about Call Of Duty - and to a lesser extent Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault, its unofficial precursor - wasn't just the hurricane-force sensory assault of its more celebrated moments. More than that, it captured like never before the reluctant heroism and horror of infantry warfare, and single-handedly reminded us why setting games in real-life war situations was such a ruddy good idea in the first place. Indeed, it made every other war-themed game look like something from the Army Men stable.
You'll forgive us then, for being a little agitated about the first expansion pack to the game, Call Of Duty: United Offensive. Sure, it was always inevitable and sure, we can see the slight cheekiness of releasing it just in time to take the wind out of Medal Of Honor 2's sails, but what the hell - this is Call Of Duty we're talking about, the best war shooter in the world! (Ahem.) For many, the biggest problem with the original was that there simply wasn't enough of it, and this has been thoroughly rectified in the expansion, with 13 new single-player missions and a clutch of new multiplayer options.
Monkey Go Home
Better yet, United Offensive was put together by Gray Matter Interactive, the esteemed developer behind Return To Castle Wolfenstein, Kingpin and er... Redneck Rampage. These boys know what they're doing, which goes against the unwritten rule of getting a team of brainless chimps to knock out your expansion pack while your A-team works on the sequel. They're here only because they were at a loose end after Trinity was cancelled, but again, what the hell - it's our gain.
So, after all that, is it any good? The short answer is yes - United Offensive is every bit as good as the original, matching its intensity, variety and magnificent level design blow for blow. Is it different enough? Does it bring enough new stuff to the party? Well, we'll see about that, but for now let's take a look at the facts.
Following the structure of the original game, UO is split into three campaigns: American, British and Russian. In the US campaign you find yourself attached to the 101st Airborne during the Battle of the Bulge; in the British missions you begin as part of an RAF bomber crew and later become an SOE operative in Sicily; while the typically brutal Russian missions cover the horrific Battle of Kursk.
This Means War
Right away, you're reminded where you are. The first mission begins with you and some other troops on a routine jeep reconnaissance at the end of a long day, wearily patrolling the Belgian woodland for Jerries and entreating the corporal for a hot meal. Lulled into this laid-back scene, you follow your squad blithely as they scout the area, fully expecting a gentle tutorial-style mission to ease you into things. And then you're dead.
Yes, 20 seconds into the game, there's every chance you'll be a fresh corpse, the contents of your skull sprayed all over the virgin snow. Because, you see, you weren't paying attention to the sergeant's orders, or you weren't using cover wisely, or you didn't aim down the sights of your gun when that German force turned up - or perhaps because you forgot to crouch when reloading. Yep, this is Call Of Duty all right, and it ain't no picnic.