Once more into the breach....
Perhaps the last great World War II epic, Call of Duty 2, to many, was the end of an era. Although subsequent efforts by other developers have been adequate, punctuated by Treyarch's latest Call of Duty: World at War, Infinity Ward's exit from the European theater still remains one of the finest efforts set in the heat of the second world war. Perhaps it merely had the exquisite timing of being the game that squeaked passed the genre's expiration date, but any way you slice it, Call of Duty 2 remains an incredibly fun, astoundingly rock-solid, and thoroughly cinematic piece of gaming.
The story to Call of Duty 2 is simplicity at its finest. Essentially, you'll play as four soldiers from three different Allied nations; a Russian infantryman, a British tank commander, a British soldier, and a US marine, all doing their part to put the Axis back in its place. It's the typical war story, but it's the way that it is presented through scripted events and seamless immersion that really drives home the feeling of being at war. There are a few recognizeable faces to guide you through each campaign, but once again, it isn't the particular story elements in and of themselves that make the story so compelling, rather how the game does a fantastic job of actually making you feel like the soldier and that this story is about you.
The gameplay in Call of Duty 2 is the very definition of solid. You will be running around a bunch of set-piece battles, witness scripted events, and eventually encounter a multiple point objective that finishes the conflict. As formulaic as this sounds, each level does such a great job of presenting a different set of objectives at a different set-piece that you'll never feel as if it drags. The shooting mechanics are perfect, providing you with a great variety of weapon types that all feel fantastic to shoot. You'll be able to fire these from the hip, but the gameplay revolves around your ability to aim down the sights and pick off targets with accuracy and efficiency. Combine this with the game's style of pushing from one point of safety to another, and it really makes you feel like you and your allies are locked in some epic firefights; laying down a smoke screen to get behind a barricade, popping up to pick off some high priority targets, hurdling the barricade to go prone in a trench and push your squad's advantage all flows seemlessly into one exhilirating gameplay experience.
Obviously, the presentation in COD2 is dated, but it certainly was impressive for its time. The player models all animate with appropriate haste, and weapons look and sound authentic. The game also boasts an impressive score of epic themes, but these are used far too sparingly throughout the campaign to have great effect. There are also live footage videos from the war to provide each theater with some context, but they don't truly do anything to further immerse you in the conflict, which is too bad. Luckily, the action on the battlefield does this job well enough through sheer scale, and textures, particle effects, and explosions still look pretty after so many years.
After Call of Duty 2, it became evident there wasn't much further a WWII shooter could go. Although games like Brothers in Arms and Treyarch's newest addition have managed to keep the "big war" on life support, this was certainly the apex of what a WWII shooter could be. Always imitated, but never duplicated, COD2 remains a timeless piece of gaming history worthy of a congressional medal of honor.