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Call of Duty: United Offensive
game: Call of Duty: United Offensive
four star
posted by: Rick Fehrenbacher
publisher: Activision
developer: Grey Matter
ESRB rating: T (Teen)
keywords: ]
date posted: 12:00 AM Tue Nov 16th, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Tue Nov 16th, 2004

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Call of Duty was one of the best shooters of 2003, and certainly the year's best World War II shooter. It utterly smoked Medal of Honor and any number of other competitors, mostly because of its remarkably cinematic gameplay, excellent sound, and gritty graphics that choked just about every bit of life out of the on-death's-doorstep Quake III engine. It was also fun to play; you really felt as if you were in a war movie, and except for the misguided British commando campaign, the game managed to throw something new at you in just about every mission. It was a hell of a ride, but a short one, too; Call of Duty took me about eight hours to play through, and since its multiplayer game was a bit undeveloped, its replay value didn't exactly soar through the roof. With the release of Call of Duty: United Offensive, Call of Duty fans finally get the extra gameplay they've been clamoring for ever since eight hours after they bought the original.

The good news is that the expansion is in many ways a lot like Call of Duty. As in CoD, there are three campaigns--a white-knuckle American Campaign in which the player takes the role of a paratrooper during the Battle of the Bulge (and which, like the CoD American campaign, cribs unrepentantly from Band of Brothers); a British Commando campaign which has a few moments, but whose stealth aspects are out of place in this game; and a hard-hitting Russian campaign starting at the battle of Kursk and proceeding across the Ukraine to the liberation of Kharkov.

The same cinematic quality is there as well. When playing United Offensive, you get the feeling that you're just a small part of a huge battle. You can look down the line and see enemy Tigers and infantry attacking in the distance, and you'll often find yourself fighting alongside squads of AI-controlled comrades, most of whom do a pretty good job of watching your six. When Call of Duty: United Offensive is at its cinematic best--as in the Foy missions in the American Campaign and the Kursk missions in the Russian--it is just a joy to play.

The game also features some new ordnance; for example, the British campaign begins with a rousing 12 O'Clock High mission that allows you to shoot down Me-109s as a turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress, and the Russian campaign will put you behind the sights of the infamous 88 mm anti-tank gun. Add in some flamethrowers and new automatic rifles, and there are more than enough new toys to keep you happy.

Of course, there's some bad news here, too. Some of it stems from the fact that the expansion shares not only the original's strengths, but also its weaknesses. For example, it's short-- even shorter than the original. It took me six hours on normal difficulty to buzz through the game. The game's brevity is somewhat compensated for by its much-improved multiplayer (more on which later), but I already own Battlefield 1942. Call of Duty I play for its single-player game. It's still too short.

While most of United Offensive's missions are pretty engaging, they do have some problems. For instance, too often while playing I got a serious sense of déj? vu. As in Call of Duty, there are car rides through enemy lines, timed defenses of besieged houses, long treks through rubble-strewn Russian cities. The missions also seem much more heavily-scripted than Call of Duty's. There's not much freedom to roam, and the game can get outright annoying at times, as officers and NCOs issue you objectives that you must immediately complete or risk failing the mission. This is indeed like being in the army--but the bad part where everyone is always telling you what to do. This heavy-handed scripting tends to produce more stress than intensity, and sometimes I just wanted to tell the game to shut up and leave me the hell alone so I could shoot Germans in peace. And the British campaign in United Offensive is just as disappointing as the one in Call of Duty. While it does have a few great moments (the B-17 gunner mission is a blast), it is much less cinematic than the other campaigns, and has too many dull hallway-and-room maps.

The game's friendly AI is usually pretty good--though you will find your comrades occasionally marching straight into fire or refusing to engage open targets--but the enemy AI seems a little less cagey. Far too often, your German opponents will charge recklessly into your positions. While this makes for some fast-paced and frantic gameplay, it also makes the game seem at times more like Doom 3 than a historically-based shooter.

And then there are the graphics. Call of Duty did a remarkable job with the Quake III engine, and the graphics in United Offensive are just as good. But it is a year later, we've all seen Doom III and the Source engine, and I'm sorry, but United Offensive just looks dated. Don't get me wrong; the game looks just fine, and there are moments where the graphics are quite impressive. But the passing of another year has done nothing to improve the Q3 engine's graphic charms.

The game's multiplayer is quite good, actually. It's bigger, better, and has more maps than the original Call of Duty, and has also added three game modes (Base Assault, Domination (BF's Conquest, essentially), and Capture the Flag). Multiplayer also includes a rankings system. Players also gain ranks as they play, which is a nice touch. As they are promoted, they are granted rewards like the ability to carry extra ammo or call in air strikes. There's an active and enthusiastic CoD online community, and it's easy enough to find a game.

While I'm not swept off my feet by CoD: United Offensive, it's a pretty decent expansion to a very good game. It's still too short, and it's not as pretty as it was, but it does produce some very satisfying moments of ohmygod gameplay. These moments, along with the improved multiplayer, make it a solid addition to any CoD fan's collection.

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