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Joystiq hands-on: Call of Duty 3

Kevin Kelly

Joystiq stormed the doors of Activision lately, and demanded access to the upcoming Call of Duty 3. We waged a vicious and hard-fought campaign against the ruthless receptionist who finally let us into the trenches to get some game on.

Controversy strikes! Yes, the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii versions of the game are graphically different. Looking across the field of battle through the field glasses on the 360 looked crisp and sharp. Running through a forest full of hidden Germans looked photorealistic, even with falling leaves that you could zoom in on and see every close-up detail. Running through burned out buildings on the Wii looked ... GameCubish. We pressed the Treyarch to tell us which version they favored, but they resisted our interrogation. Something was amiss, and headquarters didn't want us to know about it. Loose lips sink ships and all that.

Once more into the breach, we played each the game on each individual system. The missions and campaign are identical on each system, as are the controls. The PS3 has tossed in an "Oh crap! The Wii might steamroll us! Invent something!" motion senstive melee attack. Twist the controller left or right, and pop your enemy in the face with a rifle butt. The PS3 version was playing off of the massive black development kits, and not the newly arrived, shiny test units. An inside wag told us they had only just received them, and they couldn't get the game working on them yet. Jeepers. Our presence in the PS3 room was monitored a bit too closely for our comfort. We were rounded up in short order and taken into the Xbox 360 room, since multiplayer wasn't working on the PS3 yet, although the single player version did look very attractive.

A PlayStation 3 solider creeps through the underbrush. Can't he just stop to smell the flowers?

Call of Duty 2 had multiplayer problems galore, but none of that is evident on the new 360 version. Activision told us that they had a full Q&A team working on CoD3, whereas they were only brought in during the last couple of months on CoD2. CoD3 supports 24 players, new soldier types (Support, Medic, Anti-Armor) and best of all -- vehicles. More than you'll find on base in a motor pool. Players can jump onto any motorcycle, tank or jeep on the map and hit the gas. All vehicles include spaces for passengers, even providing a sidecar for the motorcycle. The jeeps and tanks have .50 caliber mounted guns that passengers can man for support fire. We were suspicious at first, but we hopped onto a motorcycle and Evel Kneiveled onto an approaching Nazi and found it hard not to run for a vehicle each time we respawned. The 360 really shines in the multiplayer department when it works well, and this game did not let us down.

Xbox 360 multiplayer taking on four Germans, a jeep, and a gorgeous background.

Finally, we were taken into the Wii dungeon and handed a nunchuck, a Wii-mote and told to enjoy. Holy disorientation, Batman! It was like playing a totally different game. The Wii-mote points, aims and fires your gun, spins your character around and also handles reloading through an upward flick of the wrist. The nunchuck moves you around via the thumbstick and lets you toss grenades with a throwing motion. You can also flick it to the left or right to change weapons. You would accuse us of drinking and Wii-ing if you had seen our first two tries at the game, spinning in place and lurching around like Mel Gibson on a Malibu highway. Once we got things under control however, it was a lot more enjoyable playing the Wii version. Yes, it might have GameCube quality graphics, but it adds boatloads of a much more important element: fun. All of the hand swinging and gesturing really immerses you in the game. At one stage, an enemy knocks your weapon out of your hand, and you have to struggle with him, via a Wii-mote minigame, in order to win back your weapon. Activision calls these "Battle Actions," and they are much more intuitive through the Wii while the PS3 motion controller feels tacked on and too late to the game in this department.

The Wii kindly explains how to throw a frag grenade, apparently at your own troops. War is hell.

Summing up our day at war: the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game are graphically different from each other, but they both look and feel extremely similar to CoD2. The real difference is in the tweaks to the gameplay. The multiplayer on the 360 was leaps and bounds ahead of the last game, while the Wii really put the game in your hands with their controller. Which one is the best value? If you want multiplayer, you'll have to get the Xbox 360 or PS3 versions, because it won't be supported on the Wii. But if you want innovative gameplay, get the Wii and shake your hands in the air like you just don't care.

Where will you be putting your $50 to $60 MSRP this November?

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