Call of Duty: World at War
Developer: Treyarch
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1, 2 split screen co-op, 1-4 online co-op, 2-18 online multiplayer
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Call of Duty: World at War is not a subtle game. It’s as if Saving Private Ryan had one-night-stand with Guns N’ Roses and the game was their illegitimate love-child.

You know what you’re getting from pretty much the opening montage of the solo campaign. High-res maps of Russia and Japan are spliced with genuine footage of WWII executions and combat. Make no mistake, this title wants you to embrace and revel in the horror and violence of war. Quite early in the game, as you attack German bunkers, attacking soldiers with heavy machine guns and tanks with rocket propelled grenades, the action and graphic subsequent carnage is accompanied by a strangely out-of-place guitar backing music. Animal Crossing this is not.

World at War is the next instalment in the Call of Duty franchise and has the dubious task of following 2007’s critically acclaimed CoD4 Modern Warfare. Development duties are again passed over from makers of CoD2 Infinity Ward to Treyarch, who were responsible for the disappointing Call of Duty 3. This time however, they have one massive advantage which is full use of the CoD4 engine. Although it’s knocking on a bit, it’s still an absolute joy to behold, throwing around some spectacular graphical effects and set-pieces without a hint of slowdown and all in glorious 1080p. The result is possible the finest recreation of the ‘good war’ ever seen on console.

Heading back to WWII puts many a gamer back in familiar (and some would say over-familiar) territory. As is becoming the norm for the franchise, you’ll find yourself taking on two roles in two different conflicts. The first as a Private Miller, a US marine, who having been freed from a Japanese POW camp must rejoin his squad and help launch the US offensive on the Japanese-held Philippine Islands after the attack on Pearl Harbour. The second is as a Russian private named Petrenko who joins his comrades to repel the Nazi invasion of Stalingrad, and eventually chase them back to Berlin for the battle that ended the war in Europe. Both conflicts provide fitting source material for a series of tense and adrenaline-fuelled set pieces that require you to negotiate through wave after wave of Japanese and Nazi regiments.

After the high-tech gadgets and guns from CoD4, this time you’ll find yourself equipped with a variety of classic WWII weaponry from rifles to sub-machine guns and new to the series, flamethrowers. The latter is an incredibly effective weapon used predominantly in the pacific campaign to clear bunkers, tunnels and treetops of enemies. So then it’s a bit of a shame that despite the impressive gout of oily flame you get to squirt around the actual flame effect doesn’t look as convincing as Far Cry 2’s. Considering the amount of use it gets it’s just as well that the flamethrower comes with unlimited fuel, it just needs to be allowed to cool down occasionally. You also get to see the horrific results of the flamethrower as enemies die smoking and screaming in front of you. The delight you take when shooting flamethrower-wielding German soldiers later on in the campaign makes you realise what a truly devilish weapon this was.

World at War is all about the set-pieces. This isn’t a game that encourages exploration or gives you the time to enjoy the surroundings, instead it’s heavily scripted, requiring you to push ever onwards in order to prompt the next event. There are invisible (and sometimes real) walls all around, acting as a virtual funnel to ensure you hit the requisite check points. Obviously this isn’t going to appeal to those who like to be masters of their own destiny, but in a game that’s all about speed of response, it’s feels like the right approach.

The set-pieces themselves are generally well conceived, ranging from a superbly-done but blatant rip-off of the opening of Enemy at the Gate, attacks on mortar pits, storming castles and the now obligatory tank and plane levels. It’s good to see an actual tank driving level (a Russian T-34) back after CoD4’s vehicle-driving drought, and although the PBY Catalina ‘Black Cat’ seaplane mission was a bit silly it was certainly an all-action diversion from the rest of the campaign. On all the other missions you’ll find yourself accompanied by a selection of comrades who appear to have the intelligence of a slug. These are the sort of soldiers who like to watch you make all the advances, are quite happy for you to spring the traps and definitely won’t be bailing you out when you get in trouble in a fire-fight. They are however more than willing to walk across your line of fire or stop you from taking cover behind a piece of handily-placed masonry. As you can probably tell, the AI isn’t really up to scratch, and we’ve had instances when your squad mates blindly advance past enemies and leave them to shoot you, or even push you out of cover into the line of fire! Band of Brothers they ain’t. Your squad’s frequent hogging of the best cover spots and the fact that you’ll often see the enemy “blind firing” from cover just highlights the game’s glaring lack of a cover mode, or even a Medal of Honor-style adjustable crouch mechanic.

And while we’re on the negatives, merging rock guitar with the on screen action in one of the levels just feels wrong and insensitive especially after the haunting strings found in the Medal of Honor titles. I think some people will have a real issue with Treyarch’s decision here even if they are playing the game as ‘entertainment’. There’s clearly a line you shouldn’t cross when dealing with such emotive material and we’re right on the edge here.

I want to reserve some real vitriol for the way grenades are handled in this game. I can accept losing a couple of lives per level by straying into the path of a grenade, especially if I was being too gung-ho. What I can’t accept is losing dozens of lives because either the grenade was just too far away to be able to throw back, or I couldn’t back-pedal from the explosion because I got stuck on a piece of scenery. This happened so frequently that it threatened to derail the entire single player experience, especially when the difficulty level is raised to ‘Hardened’ or ‘Veteran’. This cheap way of making the game harder was our main criticism of CoD4 and it’s a real shame to see it rear its ugly head again. At times an umbrella and a tennis racquet and would be more use than a flamethrower or a sniper rifle. The ability to shoot (and be shot) through insubstantial cover with certain weapons means that some cover will no remain bullet proof, and shootouts are enhanced hugely by this fact – it’s a shame this element wasn’t used to make the game more difficult instead of “grenade rain”.

After COD4, multiplayer is as familiar as a well-worn pair of slippers. There’s a good selection of maps (13) taken from various parts of the campaign mode that provide a nice contrast between intimate battle zones and wide open spaces. There are even tanks to rumble around in on some. World at War also provides 8 game modes and the same rank and perk based system seen in CoD4, including the opportunity to level-up your weaponry. The presentation in terms of the lobby and barracks is pretty much a carbon copy of Infinity Ward’s effort. Many will welcome this approach, but I found it a tad lazy and uninspiring, wishing I was being offered a fresh perspective to the genre. The campaign co-op for up to 4 players is almost identical to the full game as you’d play it solo, this plays extremely well, and as you can play medic to a downed buddy close teamwork is the name of the day. This is likely to be more attractive to many than the same old adversarial deathmatch or CTF modes.

As a bonus for those who see it through to the end of the campaign mode in standard difficulty is a small curiosity called Nazi Zombies. Imagine being holed-up in a building with thousands of un-dead Nazi soldiers trying to break their way in and you have an idea of what you’re getting. It’s a fun diversion to see how long you can last before being overrun, but again you have to question whether it belongs here. Like the soundtrack, it feels awkward and clumsy to be trivializing such an important and emotive part of our history.

In summary, Call of Duty: World at War is a solid effort from Treyarch that doesn’t quite hit the heights of the other FPS blockbusters released this year, or indeed its predecessor. The campaign mode provides a good few hours of adrenaline-fuelled shooting and will satisfy those gamers who are willing to overlook the scripting, poor AI and grenades (Grrrrrrr). Multiplayer is outstanding in its execution, but only different to CoD4 in terms of the maps and vintage of the weapons.

Call of Duty: World at War is a mesmerising attempt at giving us armchair heroes a taste of what WWII was really like. It’s failings are that while you get plenty of remarkable moments (like when an enemy soldier tries to toss a grenade back at you and it goes off in his hand, with all the gory results you’d expect, or when an ammo crate “cooks off” and spits bullets everywhere), they are too frequently wiped from your memory by recurring failings; when every other level ends in an Alamo or Custer’s Last Stand-style defensive shoot out, or invisible walls, sticky scenery and grenades that appear out of thin air. It’s a shame, because these annoying, inveterate flaws rob this game of greatness.

Best Bits

- At times, amazing to look at
- Brutal, bloody and intense battles
- Tried and tested multiplayer modes and new co-op
- Vocal talent from Kiefer Sutherland and Gary Oldman
Worst Bits

- That rock guitar
- It’s a WWII FPS again
- Damn grenades

by: Blakey

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