Call of Duty 2 and Guitar Hero 2 have more in common than having the same publisher. Both represent their respective franchises before being propelled into the big leagues. Once Activision realised their potential, both received bigger budgets and sizeable marketing pushes. Although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, these two sequels arguably illustrate each series at their purest.
The more money a publisher outlays, the more measures to ensure success are put into place. This usually entails making a game appeal to the largest user base possible, often a more casual audience. Celebrity endorsements, flashy CGI, licensed music, product placement and more start to creep in. Difficulty levels become dumbed down, and the number of “cinematic” cut-scenes increase tenfold. This was especially the case for Call of Duty. As for Guitar Hero, we recall progressing through GH2 to be appropriately challenging, but finding GH3 – the instalment that bought plastic guitar strumming to the masses – to be a breeze.
Xbox 360 launch title Call of Duty 2 – not to be confused with CoD 2: The Big Red One – was released at a time when it wasn’t uncommon for the PC to receive exclusive spin-offs of popular FPSs. The arrival of the Xbox 360, and later the PS3, closed the gap between console and PC tech. And so Microsoft’s shiny new system was graced with a conversion of Call of Duty 2, with the PC and console launches just a month apart. Despite only being the second CoD (2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is attributed to turning to series into a pop culture phenomenon) it became one of the Xbox 360’s most popular games, selling 250k copies during its first week on sale.
Activision has slowly been adding Xbox One backwards compatibility to the Call of Duty series, albeit out of sequence. Call of Duty 2’s arrival didn’t receive the same fanfare as franchise highlight Black Ops II, which begs the following question: is this 12-year-old shooter worth playing today?
It certainly doesn’t make the best possible first impression. Character models aren’t without merit – Captain Price boasts a handlebar moustache that’ll make any hipster jealous – but the environments are mostly featureless. The problem here is that the first few levels are extremely linear, ushering you from one barren bombed out building to the next. Heck, one early stage merely involves following a broken transmission cable through a war-torn city, occasionally stopping to repair it.
Slowly but surely though, Infinity Ward finds their feet and levels start to become more open. Later stages even feature multiple objectives that can be beaten in any order, although this isn’t quite as exciting as it may sound – the majority of these objectives simply involve heading to a key location and clearing out all enemies. One level set in a countryside village uses such a set-up, but due to its narrow design it’s neigh impossible to wander off and complete objectives in any order seen fit.
The final few stages are the undeniable highlights, including a beach landing scene with a picturesque village in the distance, and the historic Battle for Hill 400 – a trawl across a battle ravaged countryside, with minefields, bunkers and more. The chance often arises for a spot of sniping, using flares from mortar bombings to pinpoint enemy locations. It’s a rare glimpse of the ingenuity we’ve come to expect from an Infinity Ward developed CoD.
Also like modern CoDs, Call of Duty 2 has a gimmick. Granted, it’s not as fancy as deep space travel or underwater combat, but it does help to convey the chaos of war. To wit: allied AI troops have the capacity to take out the opposition, and are instatly replaced when dying. That’s to say, they can be observed killing enemies, rather than simply taking cover, or firing pot-shots. From start to finish, a semi-skilled platoon is by your side and, for most part, can be relied on to make progression easier.
As any achievement hunter will testify, Call of Duty 2 is surprisingly challenging. In the early days of the Xbox 360 developers didn’t really understand MS’s vision for achievements. In movie tie-in King Kong, all nine could be unlocked via a single playthrough. NBA 2K6 meanwhile had just five achievements to unlock.
Call of Duty 2 dishes out 50G for completing training, with the remaining requiring missions to be beaten on the hardest difficulty level. Here, a couple of hits will send you spiralling towards the dirt. It’s also when playing on Veteran that checkpoint system starts to shine – the auto save, mercifully, kicks in often. Still, we can safely say that aiming for 1000G will put even hardened Call of Duty players through their paces, proving that we do have it far easier nowadays.
Is Call of Duty 2 worth playing today? Yes, but only as a history lesson. It’s fast approaching its 12th anniversary, meaning we’ve seen as many instalments since, spin-offs such as Declassified notwithstanding. The outline of a modern-day Call of Duty is present; the grenade warning symbols, frequent checkpoints, and the sensation of carnage and chaos. The high production values and general glitz of later entries are sorely lacking, however. Outside of a tank mission there’s also very little variation, and lots of the commonplace customisation options – such as an arsenal of deployable gadgets and upgradable weapons – are absent. It’s a very straight-laced shooter.
As nice as it is to visit the countryside, you’ll probably find yourself missing the luxuries of modern times.