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Game Review

In the video gaming arena, World Wars are a hot commodity. Within the past four years, no fewer than eight major World War II-centric titles have hit store shelves, all of which are first-person shooters. And lately the overcrowded genre has seemed more like a Hollywood red carpet preenfest with games flaunting glitz, not substance.

But in 2003, Infinity Ward's Call of Duty ducked under the ropes and turned the gaming industry on its head. More than 80 "game of the year" awards. Fifty "editors' choice" awards worldwide. How did one project dominate the field so soundly? Two words: Unparalleled realism. With intriguing missions, lifelike graphics, cinema-level ambient sound and extraordinary online multiplayer action, Call of Duty recreated the chaos of epic WWII clashes like no game had ever done before.

Now its sequel aims to do the same thing with similar results.

Same War, New Battles
Call of Duty 2 doesn't waste time in once again placing players deep in the trenches with a horde of enemies fast approaching. You begin the game as a grunt in the Soviet army trying desperately to defend a bombed locale near Moscow from invading German forces. By the end, you've fought through three major campaigns and 27 missions, all the while experiencing virtually every facet of ground warfare.

As a British sergeant, you venture across the monochromatic browns of northern Africa into rural France, where one of your many tasks is to reconnoiter the abandoned town of Beltot and rescue a group of wounded American POWs. And as American Cpl. Bill Taylor, gamers experience, among other things, the bedlam of D-Day as troops storm the Normandy cliffs in the battle at Pointe du Hoc.

Whether you're manning binoculars and calling in air strikes on incoming enemy infantry, sniping targets behind Axis lines atop a water tower or driving tanks through the Tunisian desert, this is far more than just a let-'em-rip, point-and-shoot adventure.

Look Out! Enemy Approaching!
It's immediately obvious, then, that this is not a slightly tweaked version of the original. Game developer Infinity Ward goes above and beyond to raise the bar. Artificial intelligence is improved (translation: your enemies just got smarter). And to add authenticity, real-life GIs and military consultants were brought in during the design phase, and more than 20,000 lines of dialogue were added, including on-the-field callouts between soldiers that enhance the chaotic but ultra-real feel.

What do those 20,000 speaking lines sound like exactly? Instead of offering canned, generic trigger phrases such as "Enemy approaching!" and "Look out!" your comrades can now actually cover for you, alert you to incoming dangers and offer strategy tips at appropriate times.

They also tend to use some harsh language, including quite a bit of taking God's name in vain. And though there's no Saving Private Ryan-level gore, a spray of blood is shown whenever bullets make contact. You're also likely to see bodies writhing and flying through the air after getting hit by a grenade or, as in the D-Day sequence, set on fire.

The gamemakers say it's all part of their effort to re-create WWII scenarios and make this one of the most true-to-life video games to date. "We don't want Call of Duty 2 just to be the best World War II first-person shooter," claims Infinity Ward president Grant Collier, "we want it to be the best first-person shooter bar none."

Care to Take That Online?
In today's gaming world, it's hard to be the best in any genre without offering an attractive online multiplayer showground in addition to single-play mode. Within the past few years faster connection speeds have made online gaming (complete with headsets to communicate with others) all the rage. In fact, for many players, that's the sole reason they'll purchase Call of Duty 2.

So what's behind all the hype? I joined the online crush to find out.

By my second game of team deathmatch (one of the five formats offered online), I'd already received a lesson in just how hard-core players can get—from a 6-year-old apparently intent on tracking my every onscreen move from his sniper hideout. Sure, after the first few times of getting gunned down or blown up by a grenade I acted as the gracious victim, congratulating my killers on a nice shot while waiting for my character to "re-spawn." And although I heard several f-bombs dropped in with the expected trash talking, there was also quite a bit of teamwork and verbal camaraderie. But within the hour, the game began to take on a darker feel as I noticed I was surrounded by a never-ending stream of preteen and teen boys vegging after a day in the classroom ... and doing nothing but honing their killing skills.

A Bigger Issue
Call of Duty 2 isn't an all-out gorefest in the mold of Half-Life, nor does it advocate senseless murdering the way Grand Theft Auto does. In fact, when playing in solo mode the game actually offers a steady supply of history lessons. Sure, it's no substitute for history class, but before each campaign we're shown a few minutes of actual war footage from the Military Channel to give context to the scenario. And in between missions, the game offers war-related quotes from some of the world's greatest leaders and military strategists throughout history.

But perhaps because of this attention to both historical detail and visual and audio realism, we're served up a dilemma. Just because we can turn World Wars into after-school playgrounds, should we? Does the context of war excuse the "thrill" of the virtual kill? Are the thousands of current online players simply playing a high-tech version of tag and capture the flag, or are they disgracing the memories of the men and women who survived hell on earth and wouldn't relive it for all the money or "entertainment" value in the world?

Call of Duty 2 includes an intriguing quote from Winston Churchill: "When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite." That may be true in real-life war, but for gamers, it could be costing them more than they realize.

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