Last year around this time, we were frothing at the mouth over Call of Duty 2. But now, a year older and a little wiser, we expect more out of our Xbox 360 than some jazzy looking smoke bombs. Fortunately, Call of Duty 3 adds just enough new features to bring us back for more.
Call of Duty 3 is still the same straight-arrow, scripted, game-on-rails it was back when we called it Call of Duty 2, but developer Treyarch has refined this new iteration to such an extent that you'll barely notice the lack of freedom. You'll still find yourself facing a never-ending onslaught of Nazi forces that won't relent until you make a mad dash into their midst (enabling your allies to move up), but this time you've got an even more gorgeous environment to do it in.
Nowhere is the staggering attractiveness of the game more apparent than in the second level, called The Island. Commando crawling through the mud and rivulets of a rural France , we were captivated by the rain effects that created devastatingly beautiful creeks for us to slog through. Granted, most of the game involves retaking Nazi occupied France, so a lot of the environment ends up being bombed-out houses, but it's little environmental treats like The Island that really show off Call of Duty 3's best graphics.
Throughout Call of Duty 3, you're presented with slightly-gimmicky but still exciting events. As you're entering a doorway to clear yet another house, you might get ambushed by a disarming Nazi, who you'll need to pummel up close if you want to proceed. The mechanics of this "melee event" boil down to reflexive button mashing, but somehow they seem to feel more fresh as the game progresses.
There're also the bomb placing minigames, which, again, boil down to reflexive button presses, but the way the audio shifts to focus on your soldier's loudly beating heart provides just the right mood of tension. Even with Call of Duty 3's extremely linear gameplay, these little touches break up the constant oncoming tide of screaming Nazis with a little diversity.
Another addition we were pleased to see was a third-person camera for piloting vehicles. In certain sections of the game, you get to hop in a jeep and tool around the French countryside, and the experience is much more fun when you can get a broader overall view of where you're going.
The online experience is the same great twitchy fragfest it was in Call of Duty 2, with one major improvement: vehicles. While we found the tanks to be a little cumbersome and, more specifically, complete deathtraps due to rocket-wielding engineers, the tanks offered some nice variety in the 12-on-12 battles. Our favorite vehicle was the motorcycle with sidecar, not so much because it was useful, but because we found tons of diversionary fun in zipping around the battle with no specific agenda.
There are also seven character classes (that you can switch up whenever you die) to spice up the multiplayer gameplay that genuinely feel different. Medics, armor support and engineers all make for diverse team play, so you'll get your fill of tactical options when playing with experienced pals.
If you loved Call of Duty 2, you'll undoubtedly also love Call of Duty 3 - it's just that simple. Building on the already solid (if a little claustrophobic) linear design of Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty 3 introduces just enough new tidbits to keep even the most weary veterans in the fight.