THE RAVAGES OF WAR. Friends' bodies lie all about, holed and shredded, the lush sylvan landscape has been reduced to broken tree stumps, and the pitted shell holes are rapidly filling with water and turning into muddy traps.
Between Fritz and you is nothing but barbed wire and enmity, and he's cutting the wire. He'd like to cut you too. This time the war is set around the battles for the Falaise/ Chambois gap - a battle that eventually engaged 100,000 German soldiers and led to the liberation of Paris. You play as four soldiers - one Polish, one Canadian, one American and one English - as they play their part in encircling and trapping the German army. Your four mute combatants all do this by shooting Germans in the face!
So has it changed from Call of Duty 2 then? Well, notably, Treyarch has increased the texture resolution on all the models and made them consistent. In layman's speak, the world looks and hangs together much better. Battle is much more visceral, much more disorientating and everything just looks gorgeous. Characters look real and the new explosions are amazing. However, on default settings it's overly dark and some levels were only just visible - thankfully, there's a brightness adjustment tool. Combat is mostly the same, involving you shooting, grenading or meleeing hundreds of enemies, then getting shot yourself and having to take cover until you heal. If you die, the checkpoint system saves you playing through the entire level again. Lucky, because you will die often, as the normal difficulty hasn't dropped.
We feel that the difficulty in Veteran mode, our preferred playing style, has been unduly tuned down - or perhaps we've just got better since the last time around.
There are also new close-combat moments called Battle Actions. These point to everything good and everything bad about the changes. First they occur at scripted points during the single-player and consist of your character wrestling with vicious German soldiers, à la Saving Private Ryan. Treyarch seem to have an overwhelming desire to turn Call of Duty into a movie. Not just any movie, but an extremely gung-ho one where soldiers are endlessly performing selfless feats, saying outrageous clichés in stereotyped accents and quipping mercilessly as they lie dying. All this means that most of the game, even down to the tank battles, is much more on-rails as Treyarch tell their story, following narrow set paths rather than the lush roaming we praised from Call of Duty 2. The single roaming level, set in a small French town, is excellent - but you'll want to drive around in first-person mode, because the third-person mode just emphasises how wooden the characters are.
The battle actions reflect this, whether you're hurling a German trooper off a derrick or pulling the pin from the grenade on his jacket before throwing him through a window - they're all completely over the top and detract from the realism of the game. Both the earlier Call of Duty games made you feel vulnerable. It was as if you could be shot dead at any moment. Yet these moments take you out of the game, to its detriment.
Moreover, the battle actions, like the setting of explosives, are controlled by a series of mini-games where you have to press buttons at the right times to perform the correct action. Similarly, mortars and anti-tank guns use a stick rotation system, where twisting the Left thumbstick controls horizontal movement and the right vertical. We're sure it's like the original guns operated, but it's also irritating, not very accurate and removes the important sense of immersion.