You've been through the hell of World War II before in first-person shooters like Medal of Honor and Brothers in Arms. But beating back Hitler's blitzkrieg has never been as shell-shockingly chaotic and intense and indeed heavily scripted, as it is in Call of Duty 2.
You'll alternately fight in the American, British and Russian armies, each experience complete with fanatically historic weaponry and badly accented English. You'll regularly attempt heroic assaults against impossible odds, fighting uncannily smart enemies who effectively shoot from cover, retreat and unnervingly call out your position. (Sprechen Sie Deutsch?) Many fights throughout the game require both skill and luck to pull you through; treacherous artillery fire will often force you to break cover and sprint directly into the teeth of the enemy or into bunkers brimming with bad guys. Pre-scripted moments, in which you're guided into a certain area to witness a carefully choreographed event, are common, but you never relinquish control of your character. Rather, you'll often find yourself up to your neck in 360 degrees worth of action.
CoD2's recipe for immersion starts with an ultra-realistic visual setting, but the biggest part of what made the game a standout is the excellent audio. Engrossing sound effects, superb voice acting and a powerful musical score combine for a grand achievement in game audio. Every weapon has been painstakingly modeled and sounds historically accurate. You'll eventually learn to tell friend from foe by weapon report alone.
Call of Duty 2's most subtle ingredients are its amazing weather effects. You'll chase Nazis through pouring rain across bombed out cityscapes in Caen, France, inch across deadly snow-covered trenches on the Russian Front and hunt down Rommel in North Africa's scorching heat. This realistic weather sets the stage both visually and sonically, transporting you to another time and place.
The health system also adds to the immersion ... to a point. As you take damage in the game, your vision fades and you start to breathe heavily. Finding cover and staying put for a few seconds regenerates your health fully (similar to Halo). This allows you to fight on without having to search distractedly for health packs or med-kits. Though it does keep the pace humming along, that superhuman ability feels out of place and distracting in an otherwise hyper-realistic WWII-era shooter. It also gives multiplayer matches an unusual feel, though increased weapon power in multiplayer balances the regeneration system somewhat.
Still, the best of the CoD franchise awaits veterans of the series in multiplayer, with deathmatch, and objective-based game types. The popular "Headquarters" mode returns, a defend-the-base scenario with frequent respawns so you're never out of the battle for long. Thirteen maps have been added to multiplayer, along with new weapons for each faction to keep things fresh. This multiplayer component caps an already stunning single-player campaign and extends the value greatly. If you can't get enough of WWII, Call of Duty 2 is the hot ticket.