Sitting in the back of a truck as part of a convoy rolling into a North African seaside town, I'm mentally cataloguing the reasons I enjoyed the original Call Of Duty so much. To be honest, I'm struggling. Not because it wasn't a fundamentally amazing game, but because it isn't really like other games where you wistfully recall neat set-pieces and snatches of dialogue. Call Of Duty boiled down to raw emotions: fear, adrenaline, tension, catharsis. It's hard to conjure these feelings up when you're peacefully rolling through the desert.
Two minutes later, I'm cowering behind an upended cart, gunfire perforating my eardrums, and watching my comrades being cut into pieces all around me. And there I stay, I simply don't want to move - despite my superiors screaming, "Flank! Flank!" and ever escalating chaos. When I do move I'm killed without ceremony, and without compassion. So I sit back
in my chair, and slowly mouth the words "Oh. Oh yeah." And it all comes flooding back.
One of the many triumphs of Call Of Duty (silly traipsing around manor houses and dams aside) was that everything felt real. Call of Duty 2 kicks this up more than a few notches. A farmhouse feels like a farmhouse, a beach feels like a beach, a battle raging through a town feels like a true 360-degree panorama of hell. Any other game would have a gaggle of Nazis mooching around at the end of a corridor - but here you can never tell where the boundaries of a map begin or end - you may as well be standing in real smouldering ruins in real locations.
More than ever COD2 sees Infinity Ward throwing the veil of faux-non-linearity over their levels - with different pathways, realistic street networks and gameplay that refuses to be relentlessly forwardpushing - often backtracking or having you pinned down in specific areas. It works wonderfully, and when I played through the fiendishly hard Pointe Du Hoc beach landing and cliff climbing level, I must have careered over it at least five times in markedly different ways before I finally made it across - taking detours through bunkers, collapsing tunnels, gun emplacements, bomb holes, trenches and around ragdoll Germans doing backflips. Not daring to stick my ahead above ground level once, this game is merciless, and far more so than the last offering.
Adding to the increased feeling of realism is the AI. And don't worry, this time I'm not going to launch into another F.E.A.R./Far Cry "and then they flanked me and I was all like 1111! This game R0xxors!" tirade. Although, then again, there was a moment in the Russian campaign in which four Nazis did push forward down the opposite side of the street while I was otherwise occupied, unhurriedly chucking a grenade as they did so, at which point that was exactly what I said.
KEEP IT UP LADS
The AI of COD2 propels it above and beyond its predecessor since it brings a real feeling of organic battle - the activity of friend and foe alike don't need to be scripted anymore. Away from the scampering down side-streets and the more intuitive ways that Allies use cover, this means that there are far fewer moments in which everyone stands around waiting for you to cross an invisible marker and even, miracle of miracles, enemies that get shot by a hand other than your own. Many a time I found myself standing in the open without hope or cover, in front of a German with a raised gun - only to be saved at the last second by a blast from a friend hiding behind a nearby barrel.
This, however, works both ways. The move away from having your British/Yank/Ruskie soldiers performing progress-requiring scripted manoeuvres means that whereas many were oddly invulnerable before, only getting shot in the head when level flow demanded it, now they're prime fodder for the Nazi guns. With more and more comrades tumbling around you the longer you leave a machine-gun post on the opposite side of a Libyan marketplace manned by the enemy, the more Call Of Duty intensity goes through the roof. When you tot in the restrained, yet still spectacular, ragdolls - even more so.