Name: Call of Duty: World at War
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii, DS
Check out the Video Review.
Plenty has changed since the negative sixty years between Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: World at War. Activision, in their infinite wisdom, decided that they would be best served churning out a CoD a year, and so handed the ball, which had been handled so well by Infinity Ward, to their developmentally challenged sister studio, Treyarch. Not only that, but the decision was made to return the series to World War II, an era often visited but best forgotten by both humanity and gamers alike. Needless to say, the buzz wasn’t inspiring, but a glimmering light of hope was seen as it was announced that it would be using Call of Duty 4’s engine – so it couldn’t be that bad, right?
Luckily, World at War is proof that a mediocre game on a fantastic engine can lead to an entirely enjoyable experience. The game, from top to bottom, feels like a modification to CoD4 – a Counter-Strike to its Half-Life, if you will. The weapons handle a little looser and look a little older, the environments are based on those from the Pacific and Russian World War II campaigns, and the tone is that of a typical WWII shooter. It’s so similar to Call of Duty 4 it almost feels like it was cheating; sort of re-releasing one of the best games from last year after swathing some old paint on it and adding vehicles. There's a bombing level, a sniping level, and a gunning level. Rinse. Repeat.
The graphics are improved slightly from Call of Duty 4’s due to the addition of nice fire effects. Every few levels you’ll be reminded that they went out of their way to code a little fire spreading, so you’ll find a flamethrower to cook enemies with. They will writhe and scream, reminding you how bad of a person you are for enjoying it. It looks so damn cool. It’s no Far Cry 2, but the fire effects add a new layer to the game. There are still the occasional dull and low-resolution textures, but the environments are varied and look good. Sound is your standard affair of gunshots and explosions, and thanks to the acting of Kiefer Sutherland and Gary Oldman the voices are quality.
The single player is, by proxy, the most changed. Players take control of different characters, working their way towards the end of the war. The game’s story feels disjointed, even compared to CoD4, where months were passed with quick cut-scenes and the player shifted between several characters. At the end of Call of Duty 4 I was heartbroken with the conclusion, I didn’t realize how tied to the characters I was. In World at War I barely knew their names, and only cared when someone died because it meant I had reached a checkpoint. None of the characters are interesting enough to care about when an unfortunate bullet strikes them in the temple. It’s based off of events from World War II, and unless they throw a curveball we all know how it ends, so Treyarch didn’t really try very hard to deliver an interesting narrative because of it.
As a Call of Duty title, it’s inherently linear. World at War takes that idea to new heights, throwing up invisible walls and knee-high wreckage to guide the player on an incredibly narrow path. During the story’s 13 chapters, there are often cinematic events, like towers crumbling or buildings exploding, which offer entertaining and epic moments. However, these are some moments marred by clumsily heavy handedness, and the action to activate these moments is sometimes unclear, or entirely obscure. The levels themselves are generally interesting, following three distinct storylines: an American soldier as he travels around different islands burning Japanese soldiers out of trees and bunkers; a Russian Conscript, whose missions focus on sniping and a different, more brutal look at the war; and the gunner on a naval gunship. Again, it feels like they took the soul of CoD4 and shoved it into a World War II game, right down to the different characters and their missions.
Teammates and enemy AI can be a little rough from time to time. Actually, the only reason I resist calling it fumblingly-fucking-stupid is because I don’t have a degree in history, and for all I know, Russian and German soldiers could have been receiving orders such as “stand in front of your squad mates as they shoot” or “ignore enemies as they charge your allies.” Though I am fairly certain that Japanese soldiers couldn’t appear out of nowhere, they still had to travel through time and space like the rest of us. It isn’t at all uncommon to clear a path, see enemies pop into existence, and turn around to see enemies in the area you just walked through. The lack of a cover system of any kind is disgusting, especially considering enemies and allies will always take cover behind objects – denying the players the same right is just wrong. At times like this, Call of Duty: World at War is a complete disaster.
Multiplayer is the saving grace of the title, coming in several varieties and expanding on the CoD4 experience. The competitive play is deep and offers a nice leveling system, allowing players to upgrade their character and unlock new weapons and enhancements. There are still different modes like Deathmatch and Sabatoge, as well as Free-For-All and other playlists of game modes.
The same perks from Modern Warfare return and are rebranded, such as switching UAV Jammer to Camouflage, yet serving the same purpose. Other aspects are also shuffled up, such as switching the UAV Radar for a Overhead Plane Radar, though acting the same. At five kills artillery is called in, and at seven, instead of helicopters, dogs are unleashed, and run around the battlefield attacking enemies. It seems silly from time to time, since it’s hard to imagine trained dogs sitting on the battlefield, waiting for a kill-streak to strike, but it's fun, and that’s really all that matters.
There is also an option to play through most of the single player levels in cooperative play with up to four players. Playing this mode on split-screen looks silly, giving strange aspect ratios and offset game windows; but online it’s fun and gives points for kills, to allow even cooperative play to have a streak of competition. Another new mode was added where players need to fight off waves of Zombies. No, that isn’t a joke; players need to hold off against shambling, groaning, Nazi Zombies. It’s much more fleshed-out than it sounds; it’s a polished, entertaining experience.
As I said before, Call of Duty: World at War is an ordinary game on an extraordinary engine. The faults are mostly swept aside by the gameplay, which is taken straight from Call of Duty 4, and the multiplayer should be different enough to pull those stuck on its prequel away in favor of a change of location and weapons.
Nothing has changed too much, and that’s a good thing, so the game is definitely worth a purchase for anyone hoping for some multiplayer fun.