It’s been a tough start to the summer. Our needs as consumers have emptied our wallets, part time jobs at Burger King reluctantly picked up, credit cards maxed. The quality titles are here, and unfortunately Call Of Duty: World At War is one more to add to the bunch – albeit one that could potentially lose out in the sea of competition. After all, folks have been skeptical: the game was developed not by Infinity Ward, the team who brought us the celebrated COD: Modern Warfare, but by Treyarch, the team who brought us the poorly received COD 3. And after the (alarmingly relevant) Modern Warfare, who wants to return to stuffy, rehashed WW2? It was grim. Grandpa told us so. We get it.
However, in a nice play by the underdog, Treyarch have produced a confident, accomplished shooter. World at War may not reach the dizzying heights of the innovative Modern Warfare, but within its limitations it succeeds admirably, and races along at such a pace your skepticism will be forced into reluctant recession. Oh, how we love to hate, don’t we?
The single player campaign works around some of its historical restrictions by focusing on some of the lesser known fights in WW2 set in the Pacific and Eastern Europe. The campaign is split into two stories – in the Pacific, you are an American fighting the Japanese, in Europe a Russian fighting the Germans, and the game jumps regularly between the two until its epic conclusion.
As with any Call of Duty game, World at War is narrative heavy, and follows a linear story that covers the usual war themes of revenge and camaraderie etc etc. In comparison to Modern Warfare’s devastating and engaging plot, the new game flails slightly in the narrative department. Hokey dialogue abounds (‘their SACRIFICE will NOT go UNAVENGED!’), accentuated by lazy delivery from Kiefer Sutherland as American Miller and predictably OTT accent from Gary Oldman as Russian Demetri. With all this clichéd talk of brotherly love, would it be too much to ask for a hint of tongue in cheek homo-eroticism? Not in this title, where everything is as sincere as a hallmark bereavement card. Oh well, war is hell, and you’ll be far too busy looking at the pretty graphics anyway.
Indeed, World at War does looks amazing. The set pieces are beautiful and painstakingly detailed, particularly in the Pacific, where jungles are splashed with striking greens and reds. Environments are so stunningly rendered you swear you were there, and then as the bullets start flying, you thank God you’re not. Characters are well animated, inches away from pure realism without dwelling too much in that Oblivion-style uncanny valley. Audio, too, is pretty top-notch. PLEASE play this game with surround sound; the whiz of bullets and crack of exploding grenades is the stuff of pure cinema, aided by a (completely not of the era) Pantera style guitar-riff-heavy soundtrack.
For near complete immersion, World at War Uses the same engine as Modern Warfare, so real physics apply; don’t expect bullets to bounce off a thin piece of cardboard or stacks of identical corpses. Everything reacts as it should with the utilization of bullet penetration and ragdoll physics, and this time, significantly, we are introduced to gore. See teammates shriek as their arms are torn off! See heads are blown clean off bodies! At one point, I saw an enemy dragging himself towards me, gun pointed, bloody stumps where his legs should have been.
Now, you have the choice to look at this gore in one of two ways. On the one hand, its lack of censorship makes for a realistically disturbing experience that is probably entirely accurate of an actual battle, and therefore immerses you more as a player. On the other, it can be seen a child’s retelling of events, a glorified and unnecessary spectacle, particularly because your teammates seem to revel in the bloodbath and will not hesitate to tell you so on a regular basis. Remember folks, WW2 happened.
Anyway, make up your own mind.
Gameplay in World At War is a heady mix of fast, relentless destruction and quiet, cautious periods of waiting. Every side has their own way of fighting, and it is imperative to gain knowledge of your enemies’ individual style. The Japanese side is particularly clever, suddenly coming at you from all sides from total concealment, complete with shrieking battle cry. You absolutely cannot play World At War without a similar tactical head – just try running and gunning full speed at the enemy and see where that gets you. Instead, you must spend a lot of time crouching, running in short bursts, throwing grenades, going prone and then more crouching, with plenty of bullets fired in between. When it works, you feel smug and clever. When it doesn’t, you’ll immediately want to try a different approach to the situation. It is ultimately satisfying when you get it right after a bit of trial and error.
Dynamic and contrasting objectives keep things fresh, too. Admittedly, there are a few times when ‘break through the German forces’ objectives are repeated a few too many times for comfort, but then along comes a level that really sets things alight. For example, there’s a sniper level where you must kill a German leader who moves from one place to the other in quick succession, a quiet and deadly challenge to your trigger finger. On the flip side, there’s a tank level where you must literally steam-roll your way through the defenses, blasting enemy tanks left and right and setting puny soldiers alight with your flamethrower. There is something to cater to all tastes, and when the variety is there, it is very refreshing.
Expect to clock the single player campaign at around six hours, and if your battle hunger is not sated, Call of Duty: World at War has plenty more to offer. For the first time in a Call of Duty, World at War features a co-op mode for two players offline and four players online. You can either go from level to level, competing against your teammates for kills, or simply play through the whole single player campaign with a couple of buddies.
Playing through campaign mode in co op was the only time I actually felt a true sense of camaraderie, as surviving an epic battle with your friends at your side puts the cartoon cutout NPC soldiers to shame. On the other hand, competitive co-op is just as much fun, with a number of ‘death cards’ scattered throughout the game that give you unusual perks, more useful as comic relief than as actual game-assists (think: the ability to revive your teammates with a shot to the head instead of a med-pack). It’s nice to see Treyarch have a healthy sense of humour.
The popular multiplayer modes return in World at War, and not much has changed. I suppose Treyarch have stuck with the ‘if it aint broke’ mentally, and evolution is strictly absent, aside from new maps. Your old favourites are here with a vengeance though, we’re talking capture the flag, team deathmatch etc, and the excellent experience points system made popular in Modern Warfare remains as solid as ever. With each win or task you complete in multiplayer and co-op, you gain experience points that unlock special weapons and abilities, letting you customize your characters strengths in any way you want. This makes for endless variation in multiplayer battles, as you may have a number of soldiers in various save slots who you can use depending on your mood at the time. Feeling sneaky? Use your stealth-guy. Feeling aggressive? Use your near-invincible grunt.
There is one little unexpected addition to multiplayer, and it would be a crime not to mention it. World at War introduces a Nazi zombie mode (available once you clock single player), that pits you and 3 buddies against hordes of Hitler’s undead, who gradually become more aggressive as the level progresses. There’s not much more to it other than that, but it’s fun and an amusing reward for competing the campaign. And c’mon, it’s Nazi zombies. Only the soulless could resist.
Call of Duty: World at War feels at times like a little brother holding the hand of the more confident Modern Warfare, but keep in mind that it definitely shares the same genes. It looks better than any shooter currently out there, and plays at a furious and exciting pace with replayability abundant in the excellent co-op and multiplayer modes. Perceive it as a successor to Modern Warfare and you may come away a little disappointed, but look at it as a stand-alone shooter, and you’d be hard pressed to resist it’s giddy charm. I suggest a swallowing of pride and go for the latter.