Only a year after its predecessor comes the sequel to one of the hottest (and for good reason) Xbox 360 launch titles: Call of Duty 3. This time around, though, Treyarch, developer of the Big Red One takes the developer’s seat, pushing out Infinity Ward. There are several changes to the way the game is played but Treyarch manages to keep it a Call of Duty at its core. Call of Duty 3 depicts the acts of “Normandy Breakout,” the operation planned after the beach landings (Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, etc.) to scramble out of the Normandy area. You start the game as an American soldier deployed at St. Lo, and move on to play as other soldiers from Britain, Canada, and Poland. That being said, there’s not much of a story. Your allies don’t have any depth to them, but, this is a game about war, not people, so it’s acceptable.

It’s really good to know that Treyarch successfully preserves the basics of the Call of Duty formula: Find an enemy, aim down your weapon’s sight, and shoot them wherever you can. It’s extremely simple, but somehow, you won’t get tired of it. The ability to cook grenades, missing from Call of Duty 2, is now available. The damage system from Call of Duty 2 is brought back into use, where the amount of damage you’ve taken makes the screen tint red, and suffering too much damage kills you. However, if you manage to stay undercover for a period of time, you’re healed of all your wounds. This concept may sound as if it makes the game easy, but it really doesn’t. If you really want a good idea of how Call of Duty 3 plays, just pop in COD 2 into your 360 and play away. It’s almost exactly the same, besides the new grenade features.

The single-player mode is challenging but a lot of fun. Call of Duty 3 is reminiscent of old side-scrolling and top-down shooting games of the past, where memorizing a level is important after dying many times. While getting killed can be annoying at times, (especially on harder difficulties), you’ll be satisfied once you get your vengeance. The AI is smart and extremely aggressive. You’ll be mowed down quickly if you don’t observe your surroundings closely, crying “CHEAP,” even though it’s really your fault for not slowing down to take a look and see what’s ahead. Thankfully, melee damage from enemies has been toned down a bit, whereas in Call of Duty 2, if an enemy manages to get within pointblank range, you’re good as dead. The levels themselves are filled with historic details, but it’s hard to enjoy the scenery when you’re mostly focused on constant shooting with no break. The game should have allowed more strategic use of the smoke grenade so that shooting doesn’t become monotonous.

The scripted sequences lend a very nice touch to the theatrics of war, producing a realistic tone; they can be found such in the areas of in-squad conflicts and sudden ambushes. Needless to say, the game doesn’t allow you to save anywhere you want, but the auto-save points are well-placed, which is a big plus. Sometimes, the experience suffers from terribly noticeable bugs, such as your squadron running into a wall, being invincible to the spray of bullets, or just not responding to enemies at all. There are even lock-up problems at various situations, sometimes during a good progress between auto-save points. If you want more of what Call of Duty 2 offered, this is perfect for you. Call of Duty 3’s multiplayer can be much more enjoyable than the single-player aspect if you really get into it. Your choices range from 4 player split-screen, 24 players on a LAN, or 24 players over Xbox Live. The game types are the same as usual, offering you 6 modes, 9 maps, and 7 player classes to play as.

The graphics are amazing. The animations (except for a few) are incredibly smooth and lifelike, especially the reloading and the camera movement during that transition. The environment provides a natural representation of the WWII era that makes you feel you are truly there. The special effects used in this game—such as beams of light scattering through a broken down buildings and ghastly air permeating the distant horizon—are overly generous, delivering a sense of fresh bombings from a recent battle. The rain, the fire, the grass, the water, everything looks amazing and realistic to look at. Trees and shrubs react to wind, dirt kicks up off the ground when explosions make a ruckus, and the remains of wine bottles fly across the room when shot. It’s simply amazing! Call of Duty 3 is easily one of the best-looking and most detailed games available for the Xbox 360 to date. It screams of realism.

Treyarch has managed to work out some great qualities into the sound effects of Call of Duty 3. You’ll feel every rumble from grenades, the shock from surprise melee attacks, and the impact from a bullet to the shoulder. The comrades you fight alongside will still react perfectly to enemy positions and attacks. They’ll call out compass directions hinting at where the threat’s coming from while the epic music immerses you, making you feel like a hero of sorts. Everything sounds like it should, with melee jabs sounding deep, powerful attacks that take a lot of strength, and MP40s going off rapidly keep you tense and focused. That said, Call of Duty 3 is one impressive game, and it shows what Treyarch can really do with the hardware given. Shooter veterans should check it out, and Call of Duty fans have no excuse to miss this gem. A few dull, not-so-exciting moments and a little bit of severe glitches keep it from being the ultimate pick, though, but the experience is immersive and worth your wallet’s attention.