Activision drops their WWII bomb on Wii. Too bad it's a dud.
Like endless columns of Nazi soldiers, WWII shooters will probably never end their march on game consoles. Activision rolled out Call of Duty 3 in time for the Wii launch, but with some frustrating control and design headaches, the game suffers from more than genre fatigue.
The good news is that COD3's basic control layout works fine. Some players may want to adjust the sensitivity in the game options, but once you've taken ten or fifteen minutes to get a feel for it, the pointer feels more natural than a dual analog controller. Jumping and crouching are mapped to the C and Z triggers on the nunchuk, with the analog stick controlling movement. On the remote, holding the A button brings up your gun's sight for precision aiming, and squeezing the B trigger fires your weapon.
There are a handful of gestures used with the standard controls, but they are redundantly mapped to buttons on the remote in case you aren't happy with the gesture response. You switch weapons by either moving the nunchuk sideways or pressing up on the cross pad. You reload by pulling the nunchuk upwards or pressing minus. Melee attacks can be done by either shoving the remote forward or pressing down on the cross pad. The melee gesture feels natural when you get the timing down, but hitting the button is quicker and more reliable when you need it.
Similarly, the grenade motion is so unreliable that Activision has it turned off by default. The standard setup is just to press left or right on the control pad, but with the gesture turned on, you have to press the button and then make a throwing motion with your left hand. Meanwhile, the grenade is already counting down. If you don't manage to throw it in time, it's an instant death, which is a real problem because the game is really picky about the motion when you attempt to throw. Throw. Throw. Dang it! Throw! BOOM!
Along the way, you encounter various situations with specific motion controls. Driving works pretty well. You take the wheel of the jeep by holding the controllers at ten and two and tilt them side to side to steer, pressing the triggers for gas and brake. In contrast, tank controls are set up so that the analog stick drives and the remote is used to aim the cannon. There are also times when you'll use gestures to row boats, aim larger weapons, or wrestle off German soldiers. I don't really have a problem with the controls in any of these examples.
What I do have a problem with is planting bombs.
Let's stop for a second. Why is it that every time I'm supposed to plant a bomb, I can see the bomb as I walk up to the object? There is an animation of me planting the bomb, but I can see the bomb before I put it there, every time. Was someone lazy? Yes, someone was lazy.
As if that didn't destroy the sense of immersion already, the controls when planting a bomb are so unresponsive that if I had only played Call of Duty 3, I'd be convinced that the Wii controller was broken. You stick the bomb (which was already there) on whatever object you need to blow up. Push the nunchuk forward to insert the fuse and rotate it to screw the fuse in. Finally, pull the pin by pulling the nunchuk back. I said pull. Pull. Pull. Okay, up? Pull. That didn't work. Umm… angle it a bit. Pull. Make sure it's perfectly straight. Pull. Pullpullpullpullpull. PULL!@#%*
At some heroic moment in time, the pin will actually come out. I cannot fathom why this requires razor's edge precision. And if you think that it's because the nunchuk has cheaper sensors or something, there's a crane later in the game that proves you can make terrible motion controls for the remote too.
Most of the gameplay is pretty standard stuff. Move forward, take out a few enemies, clear a house, spot targets for bombers, etc. COD3 doesn't seem to have quite as much variety as 2005's Call of Duty 2: Big Red One. The only levels that really stand out are the ones that let you get behind the wheel. One level in particular has you driving from house to house to rescue captured comrades. However, much of the game fails to really draw you in, and there are several annoying scripted sequences.
Multiple areas have what I like to call "invisible walls of death". You see, Call of Duty 3 doesn't like explorers. You follow the guy in front of you, or you die. So, you come upon this area with four or five Germans manning machine guns, with a tank providing cover for you. Your squad mates move on down the way, but you want to see if there's anything over by the gunners. You carefully pick off each guy, make sure there's no one left, then start to move around the tank. Popopopopop! The damage meter takes about twenty hits in two seconds and you, sir, are dead. There weren't endless enemies, no mines, no sound of gunfire, you simply crossed some arbitrary line and before you could even react, you died.
One stage places you in a factory. You clear the bad guys from every building, then close off the entrances around the perimeter. The moment the last entrance is sealed, your radar lights up like a Christmas tree: there are enemy soldiers everywhere. The dialogue tries to play it off like a counterattack, but they didn't move in, they just appeared. It seriously makes you wonder why you just ran around wasting your time.
However, the winner for bad game design here goes to an objective called "Clear the Courtyard". This is one of the first goals you have in the Crossroads level. Now I don't know about you, but when I read this objective, I tend to think that the game wants me to clear the courtyard, right? By this, it sounds like my goal is to take out all the enemies in the area before I move on. Well, apparently, I am wrong.
I position myself at the outskirts of the courtyard and attempt to kill all the enemies there. The enemies keep coming and coming and coming. I move forward and position myself in one of the buildings, and after a while, I find myself dead. I give it another go, but this time, I plow through the buildings surrounding the courtyard. I've shot the minimum number of enemies, but look there: "Clear the Courtyard" has been completed. Again, this is not because I skillfully took down each of my opponents, but because I ran to an invisible line in the level that tells the game I am done. Had I not gotten to that line, the enemies would have kept respawning without end.
All told, Call of Duty 3 is kind of a funny beast. The main control scheme works really well and makes the game worth a rental for anyone who just wants to get their hands on a Wii shooter. However, some of the simpler tasks are somehow completely broken, and the game as a whole is pretty uninspiring. Since the Wii version doesn't have a multiplayer mode, there really isn't much to come back to.