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World War II has long been a popular setting for first-person shooters, from the gonzo land of zombies and leather valkyries in Return to Castle Wolfenstein to the arena-focused gameplay of Battlefield 1942. But it’s Call of Duty ( ) that set the high-water mark for its combination of gritty realism, challenging gameplay and robust multiplayer capabilities. Now it’s been trumped by its own successor, Call of Duty 2.
Call of Duty 2 builds on the strengths of its forebear, and also erases some of the original game’s weaknesses. It sets a high bar when it comes to system requirements, needing a G5 or Intel-based Mac to play, but if your machine makes the grade, you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic game.
The setup is similar to the first game. In Call of Duty 2, you’re required to take the identity of several different Allied soldiers fighting back the Nazi war machine during World War II. First, you’ll find yourself in the shoes of a Russian private pushing back the Germans as they invade Moscow and Stalingrad. Then you switch fronts to become a British soldier, holding off Rommel’s Panzer tanks in North Africa. Then you play as an America corporal who lands in Europe on D-Day.
Each mission is divided up into stages that help vary the game play dramatically. Some missions emphasize stealth; others may require more strategic thinking; some require more aggression; some make you sit back and watch what unfolds before acting.
One thing that really separates Call of Duty 2 apart from the original game is the dramatically improved artificial intelligence, or AI. Computer-controlled soldiers are almost always around you, both enemies and friends, and they act pretty realistically.
Call of Duty 2 has a new graphics engine that produces some amazing-looking visuals. That’s one of the reasons why the system requirements for Call of Duty 2 are so much higher than before (more on this below). Dynamic weather and lighting conditions also go a long way toward creating a realistic environment—you can use smoke grenades, for example, to obscure the battlefield. That’s a handy trick if you have to move yourself or your troops while enemy gunners are aiming for you.
Call of Duty features a save system that automatically saves your progress at checkpoints along the way—typically at the start of new missions or at certain key points during missions where new objectives are presented. I enjoyed not having to remember to save every few minutes, but the system certainly isn’t universally popular, particularly for gamers that prefer to keep track of their progress themselves.
The user interface in Call of Duty 2 is different than the original game—in place of a health bar, the screen’s borders glow red and you’ll notice that you have to exert more effort. You have to hide or find cover to recover, which saves you the trouble of having to look for medical kits to instantly boost yourself back to tip-top shape. It’s an interesting variation.
Multiplayer gaming is cross-platform in Call of Duty 2, so you can square off against Windows-using players, if you wish. The multiplayer capabilities include the modes of the original game, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag. There’s also a “Headquarters” mode that requires your team to set up an HQ somewhere on the map, accruing points the longer you hold the position.
Music is, predictably, gorgeous and cinematic in scope. Voice acting is top-notch as well, and even the interstitial sequences are very well done, pulled documentary-style to help give you a sense of time, place, and purpose before the action starts and the mission objectives are revealed.
Although Call of Duty 2 realistically portrays the European theater of the second World War in all of its myriad facets, it’s not a gruesome game. In fact, it’s rated T for Teen by the ESRB.
If there are any downsides to Call of Duty 2, it’s the extraordinary system resources needed to get the game running—you’ll need a G5 or better (the game ships as a Universal Binary) and a graphics card with at least 64MB of VRAM, as well as 4GB of available hard disk space. Mac minis and MacBooks are excluded from Aspyr’s minimum system requirements, by the way, because of their pokey integrated graphics processors.
The bottom line
Call of Duty 2 sets a new high water mark for World War II-era shooters on the Mac. Just plan to have the horsepower to run it.War is hell Greatly improved graphics, impressive AI and compelling multiplayer capabilities add up to a top-notch shooter experience with Call of Duty 2.