Three hours into Call Of Duty 2 and the guns have fallen silent. Smoke is billowing around me, I can barely see the muzzle of my own gun and I'm attempting to have a rest.
Crouching behind the shell of a Russian car, I've just chucked one of Call Of Duty's new-found smoke grenades, with the sole intention of grabbing a few valuable seconds of inaction. My eyes hurt, I'm too engrossed to tap the escape key and brew myself a cup of tea, yet somehow the war is going to have to wait. If I play any more then I'll be more overwhelmed than is mentally healthy. Unfortunately, however, a less publicised fault of the Nazi regime proves to be impatience - and I soon find myself beaten into the car's door panelling for my inability to keep up. As expected, Call Of Duty 2 is relentless. And really rather good.
Is it starting off with a bit of a handicap though? Has the saturation of our cherished gaming media with the pastel shades of the early 1940s numbed us somewhat to whatever Russian, British and American goodness lies in Call Of Duty 2?
Y'see, we're still not a million miles away from where we were last time round: beach landings, gun emplacements, helmets that fly off, Nazis firing off a few pistol rounds with their dying breaths, guns that go ping... But how different do we really want it to be?
We've still got a powerful mix of breathless action, dynamic scripting and the whole A-Z gamut of human emotion: hope, fear, exhilaration and everything that lies in between. The faces may be more craggy, the lighting may be more impressive, the smoke may be thicker and more billowy - but in terms of that eternal CoD feeling of hiding behind something solid and not really wanting to come out, we've barely moved on at all. And thank Christ for that.
But of course, a lot has changed - some for the better and some for the worse. However, in order to examine just how far we've come (and how in a few cases we've taken a few steps back), we'll have to take off our rose-tinted spectacles for just a few minutes. I know it hurts.
Call Of Duty may have brought the Allied Assault template forward an infinite number of clicks, but it remained linear, scripted and packed with Allies who could only die at the whims of a level. Despite how great it all was, the essential ebbs and flows of real battle were missing - it was largely push, push, push, and the main surprises were provided by script rather than foe. It also had some solo missions in chateaus and dams that were complete turd.
WE DON'T LIKE TURD
So let's take a look at a typical level that redresses this balance - the prestigious D-Day landing and the start of an American campaign that (typically, my grandad would say) kicks off quite a substantial way into the game proper.
It starts, as you'd imagine, in familiar Saving Private Ryan territory - the worried faces, the vomit, the slow-motion bloodshed and incessant first-person, cinematic bombast. So far, so Call Of Duty. Having reached the top of the cliff, however, things turn a bit different. Your way across the battlefield isn't sign-posted; different routes each with different likelihoods of death spread out from your position with their individual trenches, bunkers, smoke, mortar explosions and soldiers doing ragdoll backflips. After a death and a load, and a few more deaths and subsequent loads, the battle is developing and you genuinely start to feel that the Bosch are retreating: through a farmstead, up to a crossroads and up to the massive gun emplacements you've been searching for.