Review: Call of Duty Classic

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Call of Duty has become a predominantly console-centric franchise over the past few installments — to the dismay of many PC gamers I’m sure — but in case you forgot, the series all began back in 2003 with the launch of the original PC-exclusive Call of Duty. All these years later, Infinity Ward’s WWII FPS masterpiece has finally received a console port (with porting help from Aspyr) in the form of a digital download release on PSN and Xbox Live Arcade titled Call of Duty Classic. But can this classic game still hold up to the stiff modern competition or has the luster worn off all of the “Game of the Year” honors it amassed back in the day?

I hate to say it, but Call of Duty has not aged particularly well, and I’m actually referring to gameplay when I say that. In terms of graphics and audio, the game still holds up amazingly well. No, the sounds aren’t quite as intense as they once were, and yes, the texture detail is pretty dreary and framerate issues occasionally muck up some of the busier battles. But all in all the game looks great for a direct port of a six-year-old game, and it still sounds pretty good too with a powerfully patriotic score and believable WWII battlefield ambiance.

By and large, Call of Duty still plays pretty well too, as long as you know coming in that it’s an old game with many design elements that can easily be described as archaic by today’s modern FPS standards. The good news is that the core shooting model is still very solid (it even carries over the long-lost lean mechanic that most developers seem to have forgotten about these days) and the three-faction campaign – American, British and Soviet – is a nonstop thrill ride through key WWII battles and is excellently paced with one heart-pounding mission after another. And for those who have been disappointed by the brevity of the Modern Warfare campaigns, you’ll be happy to know that the campaign here has a meatier feel to it.

Many other parts of the game don’t hold up quite as well, however. The outdated AI is particularly problematic, with computer-controlled allies who regularly block doorways and cover spots, run into your line of fire (friendly fire can cause mission failure too), and let enemies waltz by without recognition, and enemies whose spawn patterns and movement routines are so rigidly scripted that completing missions is more about level memorization and trial and error than anything else.

The game also suffers from a lack of mechanics and interface features that have become standard in most modern games. You won’t find a grenade indicator or sprint mechanic, for example, and, even more disappointing, there’s no manual quicksave functionality – the automatic checkpoints don’t register consistently and on Veteran difficulty enemies cheap-shot you around every corner and there is no way to replenish health. As a result, completing the game on Veteran is pretty much pure luck, with actual gaming skill meaning absolutely nothing. It’s also aggravating that the difficulty-based Trophies don’t stack – I went through on Veteran on my first playthrough only to find that I now I have to go back and beat the game two more times on lower difficulties to get those Trophies and ultimately a Platinum.

Call of Duty’s original multiplayer suite has been carried over in this Classic console port, but it too feels dated like other parts of the game. There are a lot of exciting maps and modes, but without a persistent ranking system or unlockables to earn there’s really nothing here to draw your attention away from the many other great multiplayer FPSs there are to choose from right now. It’s also quite lame that the 32-player support of the PC original has been chopped all the way down to a measly 8 players for the console versions.

Old warts and all, though, Call of Duty Classic is a trip down memory lane worth taking, especially if you are at all curious to see where what has become the premier FPS franchise all started and as long as you are mentally prepared to forgive certain age-induced design quirks. $15 is also a fair price for what is a pretty robust offering by PSN / XBLA standards, but I suggest taking the ol’ “try before you buy” approach with this one by downloading the demo version first to check your tolerance of the game’s flaws before making the full investment.

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Pros:
+ Compelling single-player campaign
+ Good pacing and mission variety
+ Core gameplay holds up nicely
+ Graphics and audio have aged surprisingly well
+ Brings back the lean mechanic!

Cons:
– Lousy AI
– Noticeable lack of sprint mechanic and grenade indicator
– Frustrating checkpoint system with no manual save option
– Veteran difficulty is brutally unforgiving
– Multiplayer only supports 8 players

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN, also available on Xbox 360 via XBLA
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Aspyr / Infinity Ward
Release Date: XBLA – 12/2/09, PSN – 12/3/09
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-8
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!