World War II may have ended in 1945, but that hasn't stopped the axis and allies from waging war against one another on the video game front. And now there's a new battleground -- the PlayStation 3. With Call of Duty 2 developer Infinity Ward having moved on to other projects, the series has been placed in the hands of Treyarch, the developer behind Call of Duty 2: Big Red One. It did not disappoint. Call of Duty 3 on the PlayStation 3 is a great game with thoroughly enjoyable multiplayer, quality presentation, and some mildly-interesting tilt-control support. It is missing a couple of features that its contains, and the frame rate is far less reliable in this version, but the overall intensity and playability of Call of Duty 3 remains intact, despite these few issues.
Call of Duty 3 takes place in 1944 during the Normandy Breakout. After landing successfully on the beaches of France, the allied focus was on getting the Germans out of France and liberating Paris, which was under Nazi control at the time. As was the case in the last game, you're placed in the role of several different soldiers and you'll participate in campaigns for America, Britain, Canada, and Poland. Each country's campaign has a unique storyline that is supposed to get you emotionally involved with the characters, but the stories aren't very interesting; there's a soldier with a strong distaste for the French, an overbearing sergeant, and a young radio operator who has been labeled a coward. Though the stories aren't particularly engaging, fighting for four different armies works because it gives you a sense of not only how much effort it took to wrestle control of France from the Germans, but also that it wasn't just the United States that lost men and women in World War II.
The game opens with a brief training mission. Here, you'll learn how to fire weapons and throw grenades, as well as how to move around. The controls offer a lot of variety, yet they're still easy to learn. You can fire your weapon with R1, but this doesn't allow for much accuracy. For precision aiming, you'll want to press L1, which raises your gun to eye level and lets you use the weapon's sight. Here, you're vulnerable during the time it takes to raise your weapon and while you wait for the blurring effect that simulates your eyes focusing to clear up. It's a subtle effect, but it works really well and it's not overdone. You can also perform a melee attack by pressing the right analog stick or by rotating the controller 90 degrees. Clicking the left analog stick brings up your binoculars -- an unfortunate button-mapping choice because it's far too easy to accidentally push the stick down when you're scrambling for your life. You can toss smoke grenades to create cover and frag grenades to clear large groups of Wehrmacht. Call of Duty 3 also lets you scoop up grenades thrown by the enemy and toss them back. To prevent your grenades from being returned to sender, you can "cook" a grenade by pressing and holding R2, which lets the grenade get closer to detonating before you throw it. This is an important technique to master -- not only because it's useful, but also because screwing it up results in a grenade exploding in your hands. Because there's no health bar in the game, you'll need to watch the screen when you're getting hit. As you get shot, the edges of the screen turn crimson and close in around you the more you get hit. Should you fall victim to a grenade or a bullet and not die, all you have to do is seek shelter to recover your health.
After your training is complete, you hop in the back of a truck and ride into battle. When you get out of the truck, or rather are blown out of the truck by an explosion, you're boosted over the cemetery wall. Here, you'll find yourself in the midst of one of the most impressive firefights in any first-person shooter to date. Everywhere you look, there's carnage. Bullets and grenades whiz through the air while bombs explode all around, leaving soldiers to scramble for whatever cover they can find -- be it a bombed-out mausoleum or a grave stone. The bodies of your fallen comrades are strewn about the battlefield -- a stark reminder that unless you want to join them, you need to keep moving. A later level sees you making your way across a pasture using a tank (and even the carcasses of dead cows) as cover to shield yourself from the Nazi soldiers who surround the field. Most of the rest of the game's 14 missions aren't quite as intense as these two examples, but there's rarely a dull moment to be found.
Call of Duty 3 isn't a run-and-gun FPS, but it's not as slow-paced as a tactical shooter, either. You'll fight alongside CPU-controlled soldiers, and you'll generally need to stay behind cover, pick off as many soldiers as you can, and then advance to the next safe location. Since you spend so much time behind cover, it would have been nice to have the ability to lean, but you can do pretty well without it. Because the game's artificial intelligence appears "smarter" than a typical FPS, it can be frustrating to be unable to clear a particular section because of cheap tricks like how new enemies will spawn to replace fallen soldiers in outdoor levels (they don't do this indoors). But once you come to grips with the fact that you can't kill them all, it shouldn't bother you much. You still need to be careful not to shoot fellow soldiers, but the game is forgiving -- you're not forced to restart when you fire that first bullet into your comrade's chest. Call of Duty 3 isn't a terribly difficult game on the default setting, nor is it particularly lengthy, clocking in at 8 to 10 hours from start to finish. On the default difficulty, enemy soldiers aren't very aggressive and they'll follow the same patterns over and over, so it's easy to sit back and wait for them to show themselves. Series veterans looking for more of a challenge will want to bump up the difficulty to hard or veteran, as doing so results in a vastly different and more intense experience. Enemies are much more aggressive, they're better shots, and your health disappears much quicker.
The motion-sensing capabilities of the Sixaxis are used in a couple of ways, but none of these add much to the experience. Rather than just hitting a button to plant a bomb and then running away, you'll need to hit a button, rotate the controller a few times to insert the fuse, and then hit a button to arm the bomb. There's also a close-quarters battle mechanic that takes place when you're surprised by an enemy. These scripted events have you rapidly tilting the controller left and right to fight off your attacker and then pressing a face button to finish him off. Some of the scenes look pretty cool, but the mechanics are boring and there are less than 10 of these situations in the entire game, so they're rather worthless. Not all of the game's action takes place with you on foot. There are a few missions that place you in the driver's seat of a jeep, and it's your job to follow the checkpoints and avoid enemy fire while escaping from an area or rescuing hostages. The driving missions aren't particularly exciting, but driving by holding up the Sixaxis and using it as a steering wheel is pretty fun.
Call of Duty 3's online component is more robust on the Xbox 360, but there's still a lot to like on the PlayStation 3. Twenty-four people can play online, but whereas four players per Xbox 360 could go online, just one person can play on a single PS3, and there's no ranked play. Having 24 people in a match makes for some intense action, though it's difficult to make a difference operating as a lone soldier. There are nine different multiplayer maps and six different match types available for play, including team battles, capture the flag, headquarters, and more. If you're looking to play as something other than a basic soldier, there are seven different kits to choose from, including a medic who can revive players and a support soldier that delivers ammo. And you won't have to hoof it all the time, either. Jeeps, tanks, and motorcycles are found throughout the levels, adding even more depth to an already deep multiplayer experience. Playing on prerelease servers, the online action ran smoothly with nary a hint of lag.
It's worth noting that we encountered a handful of bugs in the single-player campaign. None of these prevented the game from being completed, but they did force us to restart levels from previously saved checkpoints. In several instances our soldier got stuck in the floor, and we got temporarily stuck a few times because a computer-controlled soldier had stopped in front of us, while another stopped right behind us. The most annoying glitch was that the CPU can occasionally see and shoot through walls and doors, which lead to many frustrating deaths.
Call of Duty 3's visuals are great, though a problematic frame rate leaves the game looking decidedly less impressive than it does on the Xbox 360. The game, of course, looks best in high definition (the maximum resolution is 720p), but it still looks nice when viewed on a standard television display. The draw distance is excellent, and you'll never notice any buildings or textures suddenly popping into view. Whether it's a farm in the French countryside or a war-torn village, each level is very detailed and looks fantastic. The outdoor environments are particularly impressive, and though you'll run into an invisible wall should you stray too far, smart level design makes them feel larger than they really are. There are plenty of lush bushes, thick grass, and large trees to use as cover, and they all look great. The textures feature a lot of detail and look nice when viewed up close. It's hard to appreciate every little detail when you're trying to escape death, but the cutscenes offer a chance to enjoy the improved presentation without having to worry about getting shot because you stopped to admire the falling rain, planes flying overhead, or a puddle that has collected in a hole left by a grenade. The game's effects are outstanding. Throwing a smoke grenade results in a thick cloud of smoke so dense and so realistic you'll sometimes find yourself squinting in an effort to see better. Explosions from grenades, rockets, and bombs are similarly impressive.
There are a couple of visual issues that mar the otherwise great graphics. Key amongst these is the erratic frame rate. It was fast and mostly smooth on the 360, but the game's extremely choppy on the PlayStation 3. This problem isn't limited to hectic battle sequences either -- it'll chug in rooms that are completely empty. It never happened to a soldier that was alive, but after you kill them, dead soldiers will occasionally get stuck in walls and even float in midair. It's also possible to see the sparks from weapons fire through solid walls. Even though most of the textures are quite good, some of them aren't all that impressive and some of the indoor environments, houses in particular, are repetitive.
Call of Duty 3 sounds great, even if you're listening to it through your TV's built-in speakers. But if you've got your PlayStation 3 hooked up to a surround-sound setup, the game sounds phenomenal. You'll hear bullets coming from all directions and explosions will rattle your (and your neighbour's) walls. The chatter from both your fellow soldiers and your enemies not only adds to the atmosphere, but also provides helpful clues as to what you need to do next. Your squadmates will direct you to the next checkpoint or cover, and listening to Nazi soldiers will let you know their tactics as well as if your presence has been detected. Joel Goldsmith (Star Trek: First Contact, Stargate SG-1) has written a gorgeous orchestral soundtrack that elevates the presentation to another level. Performed by the Slovak Symphony Orchestra, the majestic score is on par with that of any major motion picture. It's a shame there's no option to just listen to the music from the game -- it's that good.
From start to finish, Call of Duty 3 is an intense experience and a great game. The visuals are mostly excellent and the sound is some of the best in any game to date. However, an inconsistent frame rate and fewer multiplayer options make the PlayStation 3 version slightly inferior to the Xbox 360 version. Ultimately, if the Call of Duty series hasn't won you over previously, Call of Duty 3 isn't going to do much to change your mind. But for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the series, Call of Duty 3 is a must-play.