Review: Call of Duty 3 (Wii)

[ editorial ]
Call of Duty 3 is a thrilling adventure accompanied by a control scheme that works exceptionally well, and games of this ilk have yet to be this fluid or immersive—as far as World War II games go this is among the best. Unfortunately, as far as first person shooters in general go, it's really nothing new. Though the game is still fun despite the limited gameplay innovation involved, it’s obvious from the first level alone that the game was rushed to meet its release date. I expect more from a series that brought us previous "games of the year."

Developed by Treyarch (as opposed to Infinity Ward, which developed the first two Call of Duty titles), CoD 3 does not change the formula very much. Levels consist of rampaging through battlefields with AI controlled squad mates in a mostly linear fashion. Mission objectives are present, but most can be ignored as common video game logic will get a player through the majority of most levels. Occasionally objectives which involve placing explosives on German military equipment or defending a particular location will come into play, but it isn’t anything new. Not too many points for originality here.

The control is another story though. Aiming has never been so fluid and fun. The controls are so easy to pick up I was able to shoot down many enemies without having to aim down the sights at all, something dual analog control wouldn’t let me do without spraying bullets everywhere in the process. Call of Duty 3, as with its predecessors, features a blooming reticule which hurts a player’s accuracy when they move in an attempt to encourage a realistic depiction of steady aiming. The problem with a dual analog setup is that a player turns at a controlled speed and has to shoot at the rapidly approaching enemy quickly before steadying their aim for the split second needed. With the Wii controls you can whip around quickly and have the time needed to steady your aim before a shot the majority of the time. This has improved the point-blank combat in CoD 3 enormously. Before, only the PC version could handle this well. It’s not a huge difference, but this small advantage the Wii controls bring to the table truly show the promise this genre has on the console.

Other Wii remote gestures come into play at certain points of the game too—steering a jeep is handled by holding the nunchuck and remote up 10 and 2 o'clock and moving them as you would on a steering wheel. A mortar placement’s aim is changed by motioning with the remote in circles as if turning a crank on the weapon. Even scripted hand to hand combat events with German soldiers involve pushing at the enemy with the remote and nunchuck. The list of clever uses for Wii control goes on quite a bit and all of the new techniques are easy to pick up due to the helpful onscreen instructions.

Some character models are unholy.

Unfortunately, on occassion the control feels incorrect or the gestures required are too specific. A gesture with the nunchuck forward is required to place an explosive, a turning motion is required to turn the pin, and pulling back on the nunchuck is required to remove the pin to initiate the countdown. However, pulling the pin out often requires numerous attempts to get the correct input. Futhermore, there are times when the instructions for a gesture during a scripted event fly by too quickly and a player will not realize that the reason they were not able to make their character pull themselves up as they hung off a railing was because they were not holding the nunchuck and remote sideways or some other such requirement. These problems are not big enough to ruin the game, but they keep the title from excelling as much as it is capable of doing.

The enjoyable control is useless if you don't have a convincing world to interact with, and luckily CoD 3 provides one. The game includes some excellent grenade gameplay, with enemies often reacting to a grenade by either running in fear or throwing it back at you, and you can even, for the first time I’m aware of, actually throw them back at the enemy again. There are few things more thrilling than going prone behind cover due to a hail of gunfire in your general direction only to see a grenade land in front of you, grab it quickly, and chuck it back at the enemy just in time to watch it explode over their heads and pound them into the ground. It is a simple mechanic, but I cannot stress its importance enough. All developers look in Treyarch’s direction—you should have been doing this years ago.

But while the game seems like a fresh experience thanks to its control, it meanwhile suffers tremendously in other departments. Graphically the title isn’t ugly, but even the Wii is capable of more than we get here. Nice lighting and smoke effects do not make up for shortcomings in texture and 3D model work. I’d swear some of the “people” in the game were designed to look like half-breed demons, their inner evil trying to pierce into our world through horrific faces. Presentation also takes a hit by virtue of various bugs: rifles that float and look like pencils, shadows appearing through ceilings, voices coming from the opposite direction of a speaking NPC... and the list goes on. It’s a lack of polish that I do not appreciate especially considering the game’s dialogue is the best I’ve heard from this series--that is, when the game actually allowed me to hear it.

Apparently the allied soldiers were emotionless Vulcans.

The title’s narrative is also difficult to follow. The entire game is based around a single battle of WWII, with players switching between members of the Allied Forces—an evolution of the franchise’s theme of no soldier ever fighting alone. Not only are you helped by squadmates, but the entire adventure involves different nations working together in an orchestrated attack against the German war machine. Unlike past incarnations of the series, though, you may only spend time with a particular squad of soldiers for a single level before checking in with another. This tends to ruin the flow of the game by preventing you from getting to know any of the squad members very well, and as a result your interactions with them end up seeming meaningless.

Call of Duty 3 may be a good FPS (and a great start for the genre on the Wii), but despite some unique control mechanisms it just doesn't approach the quality I have come to expect from the franchise. One of the biggest changes ends up being the way the story is handled, a negative alteration—and that's just not what we expect from a follow-up to one of the premier war games available. I commend them for trying something new here to fight off the stigma that World War II games have beaten into the ground, but in taking this route they forgot about changing the most important thing: gameplay. In this department the title ends up feeling tired, with its only saving grace being the original Wii controls tacked onto it. Call of Duty 3 ends up being an enjoyable game that you've seen before—hopefully further titles in the franchise bring the level of the rest of the game up to the potential of the innovative control scheme.