Call of Duty, Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty 4. For some reason, Infinity Ward must have decided to be all postmodern and skip a number in its Call of Duty series. I like to pretend that it’s because COD4 was so awesome that it warranted two increments on the sequel scale, but we of course know that it’s because the third was farmed out by Activision to Treyarch in a pretty average attempt to match IW’s faultless FPS credentials.
So it was with trepidation that I once again braved another Eurogamer 403 error beta giveaway to see whether it was third time lucky for Treyarch (the first time being Call of Duty: Big Red One), freed from the pressure of being Call of Duty 5.
So far, probably not.
I’m not going to linger too much on any bugs and minor balance issues because this is a beta – let’s ignore the fact that ‘beta’ now means ‘time-limited online demo’ – and even the best finished game tends to have bugs when it’s put at the mercy of hundreds of thousands of online players, but my main issue is that this feels like COD3 trying to be COD4. It’s hard to be specific on exactly why, but this lacks whatever it was that made IW’s COD games just feel right.
I don’t like the weapon balance in this one, for example: COD2’s bolt-action rifles carefully balanced high power and accuracy with slow reload times, leaving them vulnerable to people with weaker weapons that could fire faster; here they feel slow without the power to compensate, making the semi-automatic rifles the only option for those who don’t like sniping and don’t want something as random as a submachine gun. Maybe it’s just a limitation of the beta, but I haven’t been able to quickly find a weapon that I like, which wasn’t a problem in the IW games.
With the success of COD4 hovering over the project, it also seems that Treyarch has been too beholden to that game’s design. Even the menus are identical, which is no bad thing as COD4 was rightly praised for its well-designed online system, but things that wouldn’t work in a Second World War setting have been clumsily swapped in. The UAV has become a spy plane, which works in the same way and is fine, but the artillery bombardment that replaces the air strike goes on for far too long is is hard to avoid in a bombed-out building or wooden hut than the powerful but quick air strike in COD4.
Likewise, the dogs that replace the helicopter are ridiculous, spawning and respawning for what seems like an age. The chopper meant likely death but could be avoided by staying inside or in its blind spot, and it could be taken down quite comfortably by a single RPG or some concentrated fire from your team. Hell, the dogs in COD4’s campaign could be fought off, but there’s no such second chance here. If they find your hiding place and you’re not prepared, you’re dead. Rubbish.
I’m afraid to say that I cancelled my pre-order on this one. On current evidence it’s a possible Christmas present rather than a £40 purchase, depending on whether the campaign is up to much, but I’ll wait for reviews before going any further with it.