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Revisiting Call of Duty 2: why World War shooters are due a comeback

Alex Dale gets to grips with the first CoD on Xbox 360

World War II shooters were so ubiquitous during the 'noughties' that they're practically taboo today. If someone in marketing suggested one now, they'd get their P45 delivered on the end of a bayonet. Having just finished Call of Duty 2, arguably the best World War II shooter of all, I can't help but feel that's a shame. In fact, I'll come right out and say the unsayable: I think World War II shooters are long overdue a comeback.

I'm not saying I don't like the current trend of 'modern warfare' shooters per se, it's just that coming back to them after experiencing World War II again, makes them seem a bit... soft. The implements of war they jam into your hands are too advanced for their own good. Steering an RC-XD drone around a battlefield makes us feel more like Richie Rich than a battle-hardened soldier. The protagonists of Call of Duty 2, however? They were real men, fighting a real war.

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Let's compare and contrast. In Modern Warfare 3, a typical sniper rifle has got 800,000 x zoom, red dot laser sight and a heartbeat monitor bolted on the side. In Black Ops 2, it probably runs Draw Something as well. It's a far cry from the ropey Mosin-Nagant rifle Private Koslov uses during the Soviet part of the CoD 2 campaign. The only aiming aid Koslov gets to work with is a crudely painted-on sight that only offers the vaguest of guidance. In other words, you'll have to learn how to aim yourself. Like a real soldier might.

Now let's take smoke grenades. In latter-day Call of Duty games, smoke grenades are usually a call for the lads to put on their night vision goggles, meaning the enemy may as well throw a bag of flour into the fray for all the good they do. There's no such luxury in CoD 2. In Veteran, smoke grenades are an essential tactic to advance up the field, and you'll spend a lot of your time lost, disorientated and confused, reliant on a mental map of your surroundings to get a handle on your bearings. Like a real soldier might.

In fact, let's take grenades in general. Modern Warfare-era grenades come in a range of flavours - stun, concussion, sticky, ribbed for her pleasure - but in CoD 2, there is only one - shit. CoD 2's grenades detonate roughly 17 months after being thrown, which means that they're not an imminent threat - but as they lie dormant on the ground, careless soldiers are liable to blunder into their blast radius at exactly the wrong time, so players need to be alert to hazards all around them.

CoD 2's firefights are a steelier kind of warfare, where you have to work around the limitations of your equipment as much as the gumption of your enemy. It feels like success and failure is dictated by the men rather than the machines they yield, and once you get over the initial shellshock, you'll find it quite empowering. Perhaps this is why CoD 2's recreation of the Battle of Pointe du Hoc - where your squad is basically sent out on a death mission - is more stirring than any of Modern Warfare 3's cheap parlour tricks, be it the Eiffel Tower collapsing or skyscrapers falling like dominos.

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If Call of Duty 2 was released now, it'd be seen as a brave departure for the series. One that saw the tacky Hollywood bombast take a back seat in favour of the thrill and hell of war. Black Ops II is only going to take the series further away from that ideal, so why not do yourself a favour this winter, and look backwards rather than forwards?

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