HANK KIERSEY IS Call of Duty 3's historical advisor and a former Colonel of the US Marines. Currently, however, he's trying to crush my hand, with a disturbing imperturbable grin etched into the tight lines of his face, endlessly gabbling away as he bends my fingers. A moment ago he was talking animatedly about the history of the Falaise pocket, now he's singing old paratrooper songs. In the hiatus, he's taken the time to crush my digits to dust.
To be honest, Colonel Hank is such a terrifying force that talking to the Executive Producer of the game, Marcus Iremonger, is like finding yourself suddenly becalmed, in the quiet eye of the storm. That sense of peace is probably because Iremonger hasn't slept all night, drinking at the Café Carmen into the wee small hours. And stormy weather abounds in the new Call of Duty, from the lightning in the first level as you assault the first German positions to the dull thunder of your supporting artillery.
Marcus talks us through the game as we play the opening level - The Island. The first thing we notice is that the textures from the first game have changed - whereas before, buildings and faces blobbed up something rotten as you got closer to them, now everything looks just right; the intervening 12 months have obviously given Treyarch the time to get used to programming for the Xbox 360.
The next thing we notice is that the difficulty hasn't changed much either, as a spray of bullets past a friendly tank forces us to dive for cover into the nearest shell-hole. We're about to get up and try another assault (honest we are Sarge!) when the tank, our mobile cover, gets hit from the side and explodes. It's at this point, surrounded by our dead comrades and burning, that we're forced to empty our gun into charging Germans and then we get our first chance to experience what Treyarch are calling Battle Actions.
"These are enhanced interaction with environment, equipment, enemies, everything," explains Iremonger. "With a gun in your hand you can mow down anyone; but it's not there anymore. All of a sudden, it's knocked out of your hand. There's a Nazi paratrooper bearing down on you, snarling with anger in his eyes. You can see the saliva dripping from his teeth! This guy's going to take you out if you don't knock him down first. Battle actions suck you into the game world like never before. Button combos allow you to take on that guy, wrestle the gun from him and finish him off."
Whereas before, you'd be using the action button to plant charges, now you're
the guy who's setting that detonator. All the time you'll be under fire, pressurised into working as quickly as you can. "There's even a sequence where you're going to be rowing a boat across a river and you' re actually physically going to be rowing- you're no longer just sitting there as a passenger."
The story of Call of Duty 3 follows four different factions and, surprisingly, there are no Russians involved this time - probably because the focus is so clearly on this smaller area of battle rather than the entire European conflict. You'll be following the fortunes of the Americans, British SAS troops (with the potential for uncover ops), plus the Canadians and Polish armoured cavalry as they try to trap the Germans in the Falaise Gap. Yes, replacing the Russians in the funny ethnic stereotype with deep-and-lasting-pathos stakes are the Polish.
Iremonger explains. "The Polish are interesting because they fought the Nazis until Poland collapsed. Then they fought in France until that collapsed, then they came
here and were retrained and re-equipped as an armoured division in England, before being sent into the brunt of the fighting! "These people fought in the toughest battles. Up on Hill 262, the Polish were in the middle surrounded by the Nazis who were surrounded in turn by the allies." The poles essentially had to hold the mouth of the Falaise-Chambois pocket while the American forces tried to plug it.