As the come-down of the now obligatory England World Cup exit weighed heavy in the heads of the many, a select few braved even murkier waters, in their quest to find the Honorary Artillery headquarters, nestled somewhere in the heart of London. After being ushered into a secure building by Activision's head-honcho for Europe, we sat down in a small room, offering no clue to the hour's jaw dropping excitement that was to follow. We're here to see Call of Duty 3, and what we saw made us feel engaged; it made us feel connected in a way that even its predecessor hadn't managed. It promised to put us into the thick of the action, to experience what soldiers fighting for our freedom had, and, possibly for the first time, it succeeded.
Our demo begins in the rural town of St Lo, in the back of an infantry transport. You and your company are eager to jump into the fight after a relentless onslaught of British bombs for 43 days. Hunched in the back of an army transport, you're about to arrive when, from nowhere, a grenade explodes beneath the truck, sending it skyward and throwing you violently onto the road. The first thing that strikes is the realisation that you're not watching video. On the Xbox 360 version we saw, the cutscene moves from the introduction to the in game fighting, with full-screen depth of field effects simulating the haze experienced after an explosion. There was a moment of total silence, followed by the occasional piercing sounds of bullets whistling past you into a stone wall behind. There was no doubt that this was a war zone.
As you move toward the graveyard of St Lo, a huge battlefield emerges to the north, with great geysers of smoke billowing across the sky, and what seems to be an almighty fire-fight ensuing in the distance. Taking cover behind headstones, you push forward toward the town, but stop dead in your tracks as you witness an awe inspiring moment. As you're moving toward the battle, Spitfires roam overhead, picking off targets and shooting down as much axis airpower as possible, but in the heat of the dogfight, one unlucky pilot gets hit with a barrage of bullets. As the plane takes a sharp right turn toward the town, the church bell tower looms closer. The Spitfire gives in to inevitability, colliding with the tower with such force that huge stone fragments are sent flying towards you, creating craters in the ground around where you stand. As the smoke clears, an incredible amount of on-screen traffic makes you double-take what's going on; this is real-time and not a pre-rendered scene. Instincts take over as you make your way through the smoke-filled graveyard that has now become your battleground and the scene of your fight for survival. Smoke covers your vision and you come to regret the eagerness of your approach. War is harsh, you know that now.
Call of Duty has previously been a series synonymous with PC gaming, but with CoD3 comes a new direction. Designed specifically for consoles by Treyarch, and equipped with a new physics engine, it certainly seems like a step away from the Infinity Ward developed games. Characters now move in a more convincing way, with motion captured animations of not only single movements, but entire scenes acted out to convey an increased sense of realism, and with that comes a heightened sense of emotion. Just watching the demo left us excited and impatient. We want to sit with the game, to play with the physics and to test the new features. One such feature is the way each character has been created. Instead of countless hours toiled over 3D Studio Max, each character has been scanned from a fully dressed and historically correct human source. Old uniforms have been recalled into service to be scanned at super high resolution, along with grenades and weapons of the time. Not content with the usual scanning techniques, Treyarch went as far as to use the same technology developed by NASA, to scan every inch of the models with thousands of lasers - right down to the bloodstained textures of each material.
Attention to detail isn't something limited to the graphics either, with the entire story-arch following the events after D-Day to the liberation of Paris by allied forces in 1944. Whilst every building in the game may not be present in today's St Lo, every effort has been made to recreate the actual layouts of towns and villages - something that's often claimed, but no less impressive in this case. During the game you'll take charge of the American infantry, carrying out close combat missions, including situation combat sequences where you fight hand-to-hand with axis forces. Missions involving the British SAS will offer a stealthier alternative, with missions behind enemy lines to take out strategic targets. Add to this the Polish Tank regiments and Canadian Mechanised Infantry and you're set for an incredible mix of action across numerous fronts of the offensive to liberate Europe; over a more connected route than in previous Call of Duty titles.
Multiplayer has also been on the receiving end of an overhaul, with a dedicated online team taking care of as many community issues as possible from CoD2. In total, 24 players will be able to compete online, with suggestions from fans of the series taking a front seat as far as Treyarch are concerned. Acting on the complaints of the community is also high on the list and the developers admit that while there were some problems previously, these will not factor in the final release of the game. So, a better game it intends to be, and a final verdict won't be too far off. Confirmed as a PlayStation 3 launch title, the game should hit all console formats on November 17 this year, with the current-gen versions of the game benefiting from being led by the next generation in terms of development. We're promised an even better PS2 game than last year's impressive Big Red One, and considering what Treyarch achieved with that game, it's not hard to believe them.
So far, almost every supposedly next-gen game has failed to satisfy an increasingly technology savvy public, with improved graphics failing to set the world alight. Activision look to be onto a winner with Call of Duty 3, and we'll be sure to follow its progress over the coming months with excitement and anticipation.