If the size of a press junket is any indication of a publisher's commitment to a game, then Activision must have high hopes indeed for Call Of Duty 2. The publisher recently took us on a three-day escapade in northern Poland, a no-expense-spared war-themed extravaganza that took in a bi-plane flight, jeep convoy, Nazi ambush in a forest, a stay at Eva Braun's mansion in the Polish lake district and a tour of Hitler's bunkers.
COD2 promises fierce infantry warfare, pitched battles in muddy European towns, fields littered with dead cows and the finest war-based action available on the planet.
With each MOH or COD title, the intensity of the battles has increased, creeping ever closer to the benchmark set in the opening minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Call Of Duty 2 is no exception, ramping up the chaos with more smoke, more shouting, and bigger, somewhat free-roaming levels. But alongside these improvements, COD2 introduces some other fundamental changes to the game mechanics.
For a start, there's the new health system. Gone are health gauges, medi-packs and magical water bottles, replaced with an unusual new recuperation concept. Basically, if you take a bullet or two you get some warning signals, such as a pounding heartbeat and red-tinged vision, letting you know you're close to death. Take another shot and you'll likely cark it, but back off and your health will be restored.
Grant Collier, president of Infinity Ward, explains. "We wanted to stop people backtracking through levels looking for health kits. Now, you just pull back, catch your breath, yank some of those woodchips out of your face and get back into the action." In practice, it plays out very much like Halo, with its recharging power-shield, although there's no rational explanation for your miraculous powers of recovery. Less controversial is the scrapping of the solo missions. Previously, the British levels were based around Special Forces infiltrations to blow up dams and so on; now they're full-on pitched battles like any other. On top of this, the AI has been completely rewritten to meet the demands of the free-roaming level design. Enemies and friends alike will now redeploy as a group, fall back if pressed, use cover intelligently and flank defended positions. They'll even try to flush you out of a hiding place with grenades, and have people waiting to shoot you as you leave - all very impressive stuff.
Above all, however, it's still Call Of Duty. Whatever tinkering has been done, it feels exactly as it should - like a bigger, meaner, more exciting version of the original. Don't miss the exclusive review and demo in next month's issue of PC Zone on sale 10th November.