‘Call Of Duty 2: Big Red One’ Puts A New Spin On The Usual CoD Formula
Time to dust off my PS2
Introducing Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, published in 2005.
Developed by Treyarch and High Voltage Software, BRO helped make Treyarch, then a lesser-known studio, into the household name it is today.
The game traces the Second World War campaign of the US Military’s most reputable and oldest serving infantry division, the ‘The Big Red One’, tracing their journey from North Africa and the invasion of Sicily, to the Nazis’ final stand at the Siegfried Line.
Its Main Successes
The player fills the shoes of Roland Roger, a Private who rises through the ranks to become a Sergeant.
We spend almost the entire narrative assigned to one unit led by the stoic Sergeant Hawkins, voiced by Michael Cudlitz, (Band of Brothers and The Walking Dead). Every time he orders you to ‘maintain your intervals’, it feels like a depressing reminder of the current age of social distancing.
Like, really BRO? I play games for escapism, not to remember what a mad world we live in.
Another supporting character is the wisecracking B’wooklyn, aka Private Bloomfield, voiced by Frank John Hughes, (also Band of Brothers). Although, he is actually from the Bronx, in case you didn’t hear him the fifth time. The narrative has other recurring characters, but these two represent the most refined and memorable.
A significant shortcoming of the war genre is featuring characters who are little more than hollow stereotypes. Yet, BRO does well to break this mould by building a natural and positive rapport within your unit. This character-centric approach enhances the narrative with a heightened sense of interactivity and realism. A unique selling point for the series at the time.
Each mission introduces a modest range of weaponry and enables players to operate tanks, bombers, and anti-aircraft guns as they battle against Vichy and Nazi forces. Whilst improving the enemy AI, these still remain stupid enough to make me consider myself a decent CoD player.
Elevating the campaign’s authenticity, each chapter showcases an old-fashioned newsreel reporting the latest developments in the War with voiceover commentary provided by Mark Hamill, who incidentally starred in the cinematic adaptation of the 1st Infantry Division’s war diary, The Big Red One (1980).
How Does BRO Hold Up Today?
Despite the variety of mission objectives and environments, the level design is quite linear compared to more expansive titles such as Call of Duty 2 (2005).
This is somewhat expected though, as BRO was not a mainline entry and was developed specifically for an older generation of consoles. Still, even by today’s standards, the graphics and gameplay have aged far better than some previous entries, including Call of Duty: Finest Hour (2004), which was rendered on a potato.
Other noteworthy details include the controversial decision to revert to using medical kits to restore Roger’s health, something CoD 2 substituted with automatic health regeneration. I, for one, welcomed the return of this RPG element as it promotes a more considered and strategic approach, hence its reintroduction in Call of Duty: WWII (2017).
BRO’s emphasis on camaraderie would have suffered if the player were able to charge alone through the frontlines like some unstoppable juggernaut. This daredevil playstyle became more appropriate within future entries, deployed with great effect in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011) and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014), but would have detracted from the grounded realism established in BRO.
While the return of health packs was welcome, removing grenade indicators from BRO felt counterintuitive, especially considering how this feature had already appeared in CoD 2. Its absence is very frustrating since there is no other way to detect and evade incoming explosives aside from laying low and hoping for the best.
So, watch your step…
BRO is a capable and enjoyable addition to the franchise with interesting characters and immersive gameplay that highlights the frantic nature of war, witnessed through the constant whirring of dive bombers and artillery explosions that devastate the surrounding scenery.
The mission encapsulates the complacency and genuine surprise of the ill-informed Allied troops well, who could never have foreseen the sheer scale of the destruction they would yet encounter.
Another moment includes the campaign’s explosive final mission, ‘The Dragon’s Teeth’, documenting the large-scale Allied offensive against the Siegfried Line, a 400-mile frontier fortified with pillboxes, bunkers, and anti-tank obstacles.
The mission includes a big character death that is every bit as sad as it is unexpected, but which heightens the catharsis of your heroic victory. This being the Allies’ advance into West Germany.
BRO played a great part in shaping the franchise. For this reason alone, it is worth a revisit.
At the very least, it might prompt you to join CoD’s fanbase in unleashing a barrage of nerd rage about ‘how far CoD has strayed from its roots’, changing its mind about ‘what CoD should be’ more often than I’ve had hot dinners.