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Call of Duty 2, a DVD-ROM in English by Infinity Ward for Activision, distributed with a 28-page English-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP and a Pentium III 1.4 Mhz PC or better, for ages 16 through adult, NIS 299.
One would have thought that the story of World War II - the theme of so many computer games during the past decade - has been told so many times (in Medal of Honor, Brothers in Arms and Soldiers: Heroes of World War II, to name only a few) that no new piece of software could innovate or excite. But the monumental 20th-century conflict - in which Good is clearly pitted against Evil - looks fresher and more realistic than ever in this spectacular, first-person shooter action game rooted in historical events.
In fact, for the NIS 299 you pay for this DVD-ROM, you will feel as if you were set down in the middle of the action like an actor in a play or movie. The original Call of Duty: Finest Hour - which was named 2004's PC Game and Shooter Game of the Year in the US and of which COD2 is a sequel - was very good, but this one outshines it in graphic quality, artificial intelligence and spellbinding action.
Although the disk has a multiplayer campaign for on-line play, the single-player campaign comprises the raison d'etre of the game. Unlike the original COD, here you are not a single soldier fighting for survival on German battlefields; instead, you face the enemy along with your comrades between 1941 and 1945 on three fronts - with the Soviet Army in Stalingrad, facing the massive German invasion of Russia; in the Desert Fox unit of the British Army, whose assignment was to push back the German army from northern Egypt; and as a US Army Ranger on the offensive against Hitler's forces in Western Europe.
Using your keyboard and mouse, you can customize the game for play on any of four levels of difficulty and can turn off most of the blood (if you wish). There are three Russian forces', four British forces' and three American forces' missions, with the last two locked so that you cannot enter them until you complete their predecessors. The missions unfold across a broad environment in a sequence, but how to get through them depends on you, which offers a lot of freedom of action.
Not only are the individual soldiers fighting at your side given names, but their faces are unique and distinguishable from others and endowed with their own intelligence. This gives you the feeling that they really are your comrades in arms, working as a team to storm buildings held by German soldiers, taking cover and hurling grenades. The authenticity is also boosted by excellent audio content of battle cries and arms fire, plus genuine historical black-and-white newsreel clips showing the Allies and Hitler and his forces.
If you're a novice at war games, it's best to undergo the training session run by a Russian army commissar who barks orders to shoot at teddy bears hanging from a pole as you "imagine they are the enemy." If you're a veteran, you can take a quick look at the user's manual to figure out what weapons and maneuver controls you need to use on the keyboard and mouse. One default key, for example, lets you "hold your breath" for a short time while drawing a bead on a distant target, as the sniper scope magnifies your slightest movements. Other controls bring up a list of your mission objectives and create in-game screenshots.
Death is a constant companion in war, and you - as the protagonist - will inevitably get shot dead many times during the dozen-or-so hours that it takes to complete the game at the lower levels of difficulty. But unlike most first-person shooters, there are - thankfully - no "health packs" that you must pick up with your mouse to restore health. Instead, when you are successfully targeted by an enemy soldier, your computer screen will take on a red tinge at the edges and your respiration will become labored. You can use this warning to take cover, but if more bullets follow nevertheless, you will be gone and have to return to the last key point where you achieved an objective in your mission.
One of COD2's few shortcomings is that it's relatively short, but when World War II ends and you still want more, you can always replay it at the higher levels of difficulty: Not only will there be more challenges, but since battle casualties are not pre-set, different soldiers will die each time.