It's rare that a game turns out exactly as you'd hope it would. Niggling problems or totally bizarre design decisions nearly always mar an otherwise great game. Call of Duty 2, however, is exactly how I envisaged and hoped it would be. While not doing anything revolutionary, it offers the most thrilling and atmospheric World War II experience ever found in a videogame. It might be morally wrong to enjoy depictions of real-life war, but when it's this good you just can't help it.
The game is split into three campaigns: Russian, English and US. While the Russian campaign is initially your only option, the English campaign is unlocked early on and the US campaign a while after that. While I feel it's best to play through each campaign successively, the option is there if you wish to dip in and out. Over these three campaigns you'll fight on the snowy Moscow streets, take on waves of Nazi soldiers in the destroyed French town Caen, be pinned down in sun-drenched North African villages, scale the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, Normandy, and more. There are even a few vehicle sections, although these sections didn't really have the same appeal as the standard on-foot first-person sections that make up the majority of the game.
Being a World War II themed shooter, there is an element of realism involved, but not enough to tip the game into the sim area of the market: Guns will fire with less accuracy if you're moving, so adopting a safe vantage point and using your gun's sight is essential; You don't have a health bar that a genetically altered super being would be envious of - you don't have a health reading at all - but on-screen cues such as blood and blurred vision let you know how you're doing; A rest from the action also brings you back to full health. It's not a game that can be played run-and-gun style (at least not on the higher difficulties) and it's all the better for it.
Combat is about carefully choosing your position and selecting the best weapon for the job. Running through a bunker with enemies at close quarters and attempting to use a rifle isn't ideal. Pick up a machine gun of some sort and you're in business. If, however, you're trying to suppress a wave of enemy soldiers (and a gun emplacement isn't nearby) a scoped rifle is perfect for the job, and a slightly concealed location wouldn't hurt either. There aren't any 'Boss' battles to mix things up; the game is kept fresh and interesting thanks to the range of environments and smart level design.
'Enemies will take cover, man free gun turrets, effectively use grenades and lash out if they get a little too close for comfort.'
Anyone who has played F.E.A.R. has been spoilt by its incredible AI, but Call of Duty 2 doesn't disappoint in this area either. Enemies will take cover, man free gun turrets, effectively use grenades and lash out if they get a little too close for comfort. Your squad-mates don't do badly for themselves either. They'll move with you through the levels, taking up tactically sound positions when entering buildings and generally try not to get themselves killed. They'll even try and flush out rooms by lobbing in grenades, and scatter should an enemy lob one back in their direction.
The HUD works well too, only showing what is absolutely necessary. As mentioned, there's no health metre to be found, but ammo supplies are clear, as is the useful compass map. All objectives are clearly marked, which when combined with simple, but effective level design, makes for missions that never become frustrating due to anything other than your own competence. You can't even moan about dying due to an unseen grenade as the game indicates this with a grenade icon (and directional arrow) appearing on the screen. Even tank controls have had some thought put into them, with both the tank and gun turret able to move in tandem by holding down the space bar. It's a small touch, but makes all the difference to how well the tank sections play.